Most of the year Houston's Sunny 99.1 FM is a ratings powerhouse that plays pop music familar enough that it keeps you more awake than actively tuned in. Sunny calls itself "Houston's at-work station," but it's good for just about any activity short of having sex or attending a concert: driving, shopping, waiting in a doctor's/dentist's office, puttering around the garage or garden, etc. Then there are the holidays.
Sunny's other great claim to fame is playing wall-to-wall holiday music whenever the weather in Houston turns
cold less hot. It used to start the day after Thanksgiving, but advertisers' pursuit of those valuable holiday dollars has grown so rapacious that the ghosts and witches are hardly gone from store displays when the tinsel and holly come in. (Poor Thanksgiving.) This year Sunny started its all-holiday programming at 5 p.m. last Friday, which is where we come in.
For the past few years -- hell, about as long as there's been a Rocks Off, we guess -- one member of our team has been tasked with digesting an entire workday of Sunny's holiday music and documenting the sometimes grisly results. We don't know why; one year it seemed like the thing to do, and then we kept doing it again.
And we did it again Monday. Except lacking an actual AM/FM radio in our new offices this year, Rocks Off dialed up Sunny's homepage to be confronted with a link to its "Holiday Page," which led features no less than eight Christmas- or holiday-themed online stations courtesy of I Heart Radio. We tuned in each one for a solid hour.
Did we learn anything this time? Who cares? We just listened to eight solid hours of holiday music. We deserve a damn medal. Or a raise. Or commitment.
9:03 a.m.: Fade up on Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You." This is either a sign of glad tidings to come, or it's all going to be downhill from here. She really nailed this one -- it sounds great.
9:07 a.m.: Elvis, "Silver Bells": I have to say, I like where this is going.
9:09 a.m.: Wham, "Last Christmas": Oh yes. Only the good stuff so far. It's almost enough to make another Monday morning tolerable, let alone the holidays.
9:23 a.m.: Vince Guiraldi Trio, "O Tannenbaum": A reminder to take simple pleasures this time of year when you can steal a moment. When is A Charlie Brown Christmas on this year?
9:25 a.m.: John Lennon & the Plastic Ono Band: "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)": I just felt a little tickle in my throat. I'm sure that's what that was.
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9:31 a.m.: Perry Como, "Home For the Holidays." First yawn stifled. Looking forward to that "Christmas Rocks" station at the moment.
9:40 a.m.: This is more like it: Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12-24," the old "Carol of the Bells" as reimagined by Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Will automatically make anything you're doing at the moment -- even typing in front of a computer screen -- 50 percent more exciting.
9:51 a.m.: Tony Bennett singing "Winter Wonderland." There is a reason they call this "classic pop," which is all too easy to forget sometimes. Good stuff.
9:58 a.m.: Switching over to "Christmas Rocks," and not a moment too soon. Carrie Underwood's "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" was a bit much.
10:07 a.m.: I am now the proud owner of an iHeartRadio account, because that's the only way I could log in to "Christmas Rocks." I was immediately greeted by Rob Halford and friends doing "We Three Kings." It crashed my computer. Damn... that is one potent holiday metal song!
10:10 a.m.: Bob Rivers, who I've never heard of before, is singing something called "Santa Claus Is Fooling Around." It's a note for note ancestor to Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band's "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," down to the tenor sax solo. However, a woman is making some suspiciously sex-like "Oh, Santa!" noises in the background. Did the Big Man know about this?
10:13 a.m.: On 1990's The Razor's Edge, AC/DC took a pit stop on the highway to hell to ask Santa for a "Mistress For Christmas." Hell yeah.
10:19 a.m.: And here's Gary Hoey doing a smooth-jazz version of the "Chestnuts" song. I thought the segues on Christmas Lites were jarring.
10:23 a.m.: The surprise here is not that erstwhile Slipknot singer Corey Taylor recorded some Christmas music -- the f-bomb-strewn "XM@$ Song" -- but that it's pretty damn catchy.
10:53 a.m.: Cheap Trick, "Come On Christmas." Great variety on this channel, to the point of being perplexing.
10:55 a.m.: Billy Squier, "Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You." One of my holiday favorites. Lonely is the night before Christmas...
11:03 a.m.: And we're back safely in easy-listening land with Andy Williams' "Do You Hear What I Hear." Don't mind this song at all, especially coming as it does after Ted Nugent's "Deck the Halls."
11:06 a.m.: Gene Autry, "Here Comes Santa Claus." Cannot hear this song without thinking about the SWAT team storming the Griswold family home in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.
11:15 a.m.: Bing Crosby, "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas." It's beginning to sound a lot like an elevator. But next hour: Christmas Jams!
11:22 a.m.: Elvis Presley, "Blue Christmas." Starting to wonder what the difference between this and "Christmas Lites" really is. Perry Como was before this.
11:24 a.m.: Doris Day, "I'll Be Home For Christmas." Lovely version with real warmth, not saccharine at all. Day never got enough credit.
11:36 a.m.: Frank Sinatra, "The Christmas Song." If it can't be Nat King Cole, Ol' Blue Eyes will have to do...
11:46 a.m.: The Beach Boys, "Frosty the Snowman." This is more what I expected from Christmas Rocks, not Corey Taylor's f-bomb Yuletide carol. I guess it could go either way.
11:51 a.m.: The Jackson 5, "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus": Wish there was a "Dr. Demento Holiday" channel for all the funny or outright bizarre Christmas songs out there. This one only scratches the surface.
11:58 a.m.: Bing Crosby, "Mele Kalikimaka": Another Christmas Vacation flashback. Bring on the Christmas Jams!
12:02: Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, "Deck the Halls/Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella": This is so much better than Ted Nugent's "Deck the Halls," I can't even tell you.
12:10: Babyface, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas": So far this channel isn't jamming very hard.
12:14 p.m.: Johnny Mathis, "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas": Again, where are the jams?
12:23 p.m.: Yolanda Adams, "Carol of the Bells/What Child Is This": Now gospel jams I can get with. This elaborate medley is well-arranged and soul-stirring.
12:30 p.m.: Boyz II Men, "Let It Snow": Almost unrecognizable. Whether that's a good or bad thing depends entirely on your opinion of "I'll Make Love to You," of course.
12:42 p.m.: Brian McKnight, "Christmas (You and Me)": This is more like it, a Christmas jam silkier than satin pajamas, with the message "you're the only present I'll ever need." Awwww.
12:45 p.m.: Lou Rawls, "Sleigh Ride": Good old Lou Rawls. He could smooth out a winding road in the Rockies.
12:57 p.m.: 7 Sons of Soul, "Christmas Time": This hour has been a lot more... mellow than I expected. We'll see what "Christmas R&B Classics" has in store -- hopefully the Temptations' "Silent Night"...
CHRISTMAS R&B CLASSICS
1:02 p.m.: This is more like it. It's not displaying the artist, but the song is Charles Brown's "Merry Christmas Baby," hands-down one of the sexiest holiday songs ever written.
1:05 p.m.: And now James Brown's "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto." Love the way the horns hit a little bit of that "Jingle Bells" lick in there.
1:08 p.m.: Aretha Franklin, "Winter Wonderland." No question what, or who, this is at all. I feel like I wasted an hour with Jon B and Boyz II Men.
1:14 p.m.: First repeat of the day, the Jackson 5's "Frosty the Snowman." If you don't own A Motown Christmas, originally released in 1973, you really should.
1:20 p.m.: Otis Redding, "White Christmas." Ooh. This is extra nice.
1:28 p.m.: Nat King Cole, "O Tannenbaum": Ever wanted to hear Natalie's dad sing in German? Not "The Christmas Song," to be sure, but not bad at all.
1:35 p.m.: Brook Benton, "This Time of Year." If you dig Nat King Cole, check this guy out sometime. He did "Rainy Night In Georgia" and "It's Just a Matter of Time" long before Randy Travis got ahold of it.
1:55 p.m.: Lou Rawls, "Merry Christmas Baby": That's right, the same Charles Brown song as at the top of the hour. Still sounds mighty fine, but it must be Clear Channel's way of saying it's time to tune to "Country Christmas."
More holiday cheer on the next page.
2:02 p.m.: Band Aid, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" For real. I had to check the browser, but here it is. Not sure how this song is even remotely country, but I've always thought it was one of the better charity one-off singles. At least I tuned in in time to hear Bono's "tonight thank God it's them instead of you." But can we have some country music please?
2:05 p.m.: Brad Paisley, "Silent Night": Yes we can.
2:09 p.m.: Perry Como, "Home for the Holidays": Okaaaaaay...
2:14 p.m.: Andy Williams, "The First Noel." This MOR stuff is fine, but they can play a country song any time now.
2:19 p.m.: Lady Antebellum, "Blue Christmas." Somewhat better. Merle Haggard's "If We Make It Through December" is probably too much to ask for.
2:24 p.m.: Gene Autry, "Here Comes Santa Claus": Another Christmas Vacation flashback; I can accept this.
2:32 p.m.: Nat King Cole, "Deck the Halls": I give up.
2:37 p.m.: Faith Hill, "Where Are You Christmas": More like "where are you country?"
2:43 p.m.: Mariah Carey, "All I Want For Christmas Is You": Oh, come on.
2:52 p.m.: Garth Brooks, "The Gift": Good lord. For a country station it's still better than Mariah Carey, but it will still rip out your heart and stomp on it in front of you. Happy holidays, everybody!
3:18 p.m.: After a staff meeting, I return to "Hanukkah Radio," a "celebration of the Festival of Lights." First up is "The Latke Song," a disco-pop romp told from the delicious potato pancake's point of view. This is a very promising development.
3:24 p.m.: Barbra Streisand, "Avinu Malkeinu": Serious operatic recital with full choir, taken from her 1997 album Higher Ground. Title means "Our Father, Our King" in Hebrew.
3:27 p.m.: Adam Sandler, "The Chanukah Song Pt. 3": This I also expected, although I had been fuzzy if Sandler made a third. This one celebrates, among others, Joey Ramone, one-third of the Friends cast, and Willie Nelson's harmonica right hand Mickey Raphael.
3:38 p.m.: Matisyahu, "Happy Hanukkah": Figures we'd also hear from the Hasidic reggae superstar. This may be the most festive song I've heard all day.
3:47 p.m.: Cindy Paley, "Take a Potato." Some of these Hanukkah songs are quite instructive.
3:50 p.m.: The LeeVees, "Nun Gimmel Heh Shin": Never heard this song before, no idea what it's about, but it was way more country than anything I heard on that damn "Country Christmas" channel. I'm still bitter about that.
4:08 p.m.: Adam Sandler, "Chanukah Song": ... and here's the original (and still the best).
4:19 p.m.: Craig & Co., "Chanukah Rap": The story of the Jews, B-boy style: "Go Judah, go Judah, go Judah Maccabee." Gotta think Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA (R.I.P.) would give a tip of the yarmulke.
SOUNDS OF THE SEASON
4:36 p.m.: Have moved onto the final station of the day, "Songs of the Season," in time for Jimmy Durante's "Frosty the Snowman." Frosty must be big on this channel, because the Beach Boys were just singing about him. But never mind Frosty, I feel like my brain is melting.
4:40 p.m.: Alan Jackson, "Let It Be Christmas": And apparently if I wanted to hear some actual country Christmas songs, I should have been listening to "Sounds of the Season" all along.
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