My guess is that not a lot of readers are familiar with today’s Advent Calendar selection, Ron Sexsmith’s Maybe This Christmas. I suspect over the coming years this will change; I have no doubt that a generation from now it will be part of our Classic Holiday canon. This is no easy feat, as we shall see.
But before we get into all of that, take a listen to Maybe This Christmas:
Every year recording companies push their artists under contract to come up with a new Holiday song, hoping to strike gold. It’s one thing to have an artist like Harry Connick, Jr. or Mariah Carey put out an album of standards that will sell by the millions. But what record companies really want is that single song that will become a perennial yuletide hit, re-recorded by dozens of other Harry Connick, Jrs. and Mariah Careys each year, and to which they own the exclusive copyright. This is why each year so many top-selling artists who don’t have a Christmas album coming out will release original Holiday singles. When those singles invariably don’t catch on, the record companies will often hand the failed song to another artist under contract, hoping that a fresh voice and audience might succeed where others have failed before the title enters the dreaded state of Public Domain.
Because the potential revenue earned by owning the rights to a Holiday standard is so astronomically large, record companies tend to throw everything they have at these numbers. As a result, the recordings are too often over-produced, over-hyped, and over-played at even a single listen. With the bigger artists, more time and effort is spent on the music videos made to “push” the song than in writing and recording the actual songs themselves. Not that any of that helps, mind you. Each year, famous, top-tier recording artists release dozens of the things; every following year, no one remembers that they were released at all. They are almost universally horrid, saccharine, unlistenable dreck.
For fans of individual artists, this answers questions they’ve probably long wanted to ask the objects of their affection:
“What on earth were The Killers thinking releasing A Great Big Sled?”
“Christmas Lights in so obviously forgettable, dull, and uninspired — why did Coldplay even bother?”
Maybe This Christmas, however, is simply an amazing piece of song-craft.
Unlike other new holiday offerings, the recording’s production is small and intimate, relying instead on an uplifting and catchy melody. The lyrics are both simple and threadbare, yet they still convey complex layers: in a season of supposed good cheer, the singer privately longs to leave behind his melancholy depression in favor of the love and happiness he sees around him. As much as he secretly wishes to do so, however, he recognizes wistfully that he may not have it in him; everything is couched in the word “maybe.”
“And maybe forgiveness will ask us to call
Someone we love, someone we’ve lost
For reasons we can’t quite recall.
Maybe this Christmas?”
That simultaneous feeling of hope and loss — who amongst us hasn’t experienced this sensation at least once at Christmas?
Unlike most new Holiday offerings, Maybe This Christmas is starting to be covered a lot, especially by other independent artists. Because of this, it seems destined to eventually take a place in the Classic Holiday canon. Regardless, it will always be an entry on my own Christmas playlists.
You should add it to yours as well.
As long as I’m writing about Maybe This Christmas, I might as well note that there is another Ron Sexsmith original that almost-kind-of made the Advent Calendar: Snow Angel.
Like Merry Xmas (War Is Over) and Baby It’s Cold Outside, Snow Angel was never meant to be a holiday or even a seasonal song. Rather, it’s an achingly sad reflection of the lugubrious regret we feel in later life at letting the things that really mattered slip through our fingers in our youth. And unlike Maybe This Christmas, I don’t think it has a prayer at ever becoming a standard. But because of its snow angel imagery (and its gorgeous melody), it gets placed in a lot of my longer holiday music playlists. And because I’m pimping Ron Sexsmith today, I’ll post Snow Angel as well: