It’s almost Halloween, and I, for one, am loving the season — the decorations, the fall colors, all of the pumpkins and the get-togethers. I’m especially enjoying the music. Halloween-themed music, in my opinion, is infinitely more fun to play than music from any other holiday. Yes, Christmas has the ultimate weight as far as quantity goes, and it certainly carries its own warming nostalgia, but the majority of those songs are worn out and endlessly covered. Halloween is different. The greatest Halloween songs don’t necessarily get many cover versions, and they don’t necessarily have anything to do with the actual holiday. Some are just spooky and dark. You can get away with a lot more with this holiday.
The thing is, because the rules are loose with Halloween, many of these songs get played throughout the year regardless of the season. Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand,” Echo & the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon” and Van Morrison’s “Here Comes The Night” don’t need an excuse for spins, even though they’ve become standards in late October, which got me thinking: There are songs in a similar vein that are related to Christmas, though not exactly a Christmas song, that tend to be off limits during any other part of the year. In my last article, I asked why a song could make some listeners so angry just because of the artist singing it. There is a much tamer, less-serious version of that when it comes to holidays and the music associated with it.
For instance, can I really not play Joni Mitchell’s “River” outside of December? I’ve tried and got instant pushback from callers insisting that I just broke a major DJ rule. I love “River.” It’s one of the all-time greatest songs. I personally want to hear it as much in May as anytime after Thanksgiving. The fact that she sings “It’s coming on Christmas…” in that opening line, along with a few picturesque lyrics that follow, doesn’t so much equate the song to something like “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” to me. Maybe because after that first verse, Mitchell takes the song into pure relationship and longing territory. Aside from that first verse — and to be fair, she does tease five notes of “Jingle Bells” briefly — it could be any normal love song.
The same goes with The Pogues “Fairytale of New York,” though admittedly, this one’s a harder argument. They invoke Christmas through the duet, but because of the style of the storytelling, and especially the music, it carries more of a movie you watch that just happens to have a scene in it during Christmastime, but not actually a Christmas movie. I may be the only one who feels this way about this classic though, as most of my friends tell me it’s a wintertime-only cut. I say play it in June, and I’ll still love it just as much.
Further along, there is a Tom Waits tune called “New Year’s Eve,” a great rambling story that only mentions the holiday once, but does feature the hook of “Auld Lang Syne” in the bridge. I thought I was in safe territory when I was still giving it spins come February, until a caller reprimanded me and told me to “move on.” Maybe he had a bad NYE experience. Maybe he doesn’t like Tom Waits, though I don’t know how to feel about a person who flat out just doesn’t like Tom Waits, so I’ll assume it was the former reason for the sake of humanity. For the sake of his soul.
I suppose I’m in the minority in this argument altogether. I pulled a highly-scientific poll by asking a handful of my friends, and none of them took my side on any of these. Apparently, there are very strict guidelines to when certain songs can be played, and the punishment is eternal exile. Either that or a stern finger wagging. So be it. That still won’t stop me from enjoying my favorites the same way that I may just be wearing white after Labor Day, because, dammit, that shirt makes me feel great. Plus, Joni’s “River” is on her Blue album, which absolutely, positively must be played front-to-back. So, maybe I’ll play it in June. And maybe I’ll play “Monster Mash” in December. And I’ll do it with a big shit-eating grin.