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The Looney Tunes DVD+R Project Part One

Posted in Beatles,cartoons,computer,DVD,geekery,Looney Tunes,Warner Bros. by catradhtem on the January 4th, 2013

Wow, 2013, here we are! I have got so much coming up in the next twelve months that I should really use this blog that I was so happy to start well over a year ago.

I’ve got some rants, stories, commentaries, work projects, and other things that will come up in the future. But for today, I will be blogging updates on what will (hopefully) be my major non-work-related creative hobby of the new year. I won’t begin to pretend that this will interest everyone, and frankly I don’t care if it does or not. Get your own bloody blog.

This was actually something I had started well over a year ago and was well into the process of working on, but numerous life events–moving, releasing a feature-length movie, moving again, getting married, and then being indirectly involved in a drawn-out criminal matter dealing with truly one of the scummiest people on the planet–kept me a little preoccupied. But I like to think I can start this all up again at a comfortable, leisurely pace.

As all of my closest friends and family know about me–as do many of even my most casual of friends–one of my passions is classic theatrical animation, particularly the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons produced and/or released by Warner Bros. from 1929 to 1969 (and then some). I have been an avid fan and collector of not only the cartoons themselves but also of the characters for nearly a quarter-century now, and I am happy to say that my collection contains everything from half-inch Mexican plastic figurines to original animation cels from the actual productions.

But through it all, my true fandom lies with collecting the shorts themselves on home video. Warner Bros. has done an above-average job releasing them on DVD for the last ten years–in both multi-disc boxed sets and a handful of single-disc odds and ends–but there is still so much more left unreleased on disc. There are over a thousand shorts total in the Looney Tunes series, and about six hundred of them are still unreleased on DVD (or Blu-ray). I was always happy to supplement my collection with not only the previous VHS releases Warner had produced a generation ago but also my numerous, numerous recordings made off TV on both Beta and then VHS over the last two decades. I have always tried to store and archive my videos in the best conditions possible, but the fact of the matter is that tape simply doesn’t last forever. Unfortunately, I can’t play the waiting game any longer. These recordings will soon become goo even if I had them sealed underground in a temperature-controlled salt mine alongside the Johnny Carson vault. Although I’m fairly optimistic that Warner Bros. will eventually release everything on DVD over time–either through retail or through the awesome Warner Archive–I have twenty-plus years of videotaped material that I could be transferring to disc myself…just in case.

Please understand, this project and these updates are not advocating piracy, bootlegging, or whatever you want to call it. If Warner Home Video tomorrow was to announce that they will release the entire collection of shorts in one huge, 500-dollar boxed set, I would pre-order it without thinking twice (in fact, the studio has already made some of my work on this project moot, as you will read later). This is me trying to find a way to make over a hundred videos with over four hundred hours of material more compact and easier to access. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but VHS tapes are thick and bulky. If I can squash an entire bookcase of videos down to fifteen or twenty discs, well, to me that sounds like an insanely fun goal to pursue.

And while I’m offering caveats and warnings and the like, this is also not meant to be any sort of “advertising” for bootlegs. I’m not interested in selling copies of what I will end up with, nor is this some sneaky wink-wink way to promote a YouTube channel or anything. I’m also not really interested in trades for the discs unless you had something extremely super-rare like a pristine 35mm-sourced transfer of 1969’s Injun Trouble or the rest of the redrawn-colorized Porky Pigs or something. If all you’re going to say is, “I got a bad VHS dupe of Coal Black. Do you want it so I can get copies of your DVDs?”, then I will merely wish you a good day, sir.

I’m usually not one to even want to do this kind of thing. I remember buying a computer years and years ago just as DVD burning drives were becoming quasi-popular. The salesman tried in vain to talk me into getting one installed, promising that “Oh, you’ll be able to convert all of your VHS tapes to DVDs and blah, blah, blah….” I was unconvinced for one major reason: knowing the technology at the time, I would most likely have lost a generation in video quality. The salesman seemed to have thought that merely possessing a video recording of a broadcast was the same thing as owning or having access to a studio master tape, film negatives, remastering tools, etc. Or let me rephrase that: he either assumed that I did or he knew that I didn’t but was trained to act otherwise. I strongly believe that a lot of early “transfer to DVD” programs and hardware were marketed and sold intentionally ignoring the fact that no matter what–no matter how much disc space you use or how little tinkering you do with the files–your end result would have in almost all cases looked worse than your source recording.

Thankfully, times have changed a little and the technology in all areas has improved. I am still not 100 percent convinced that there won’t be some loss of quality, but like I said, I now feel like I am running out of time. I can now take that chance. I’m ready to say good-bye to one dead format and move everything over into another, dying format.

Actually, the technical process is one I’m already well used to. Digging through video tapes and the like and converting them into digital files was how I acquired some of the stock footage that I used in my documentary feature Yankoheit 27. I also performed an archival dig through my ancient recordings of The Ren and Stimpy Show in order to supply research materials for my friend Thad and his awesome, awesome, awesome book on the history of the series coming out this year. And two years ago, I took a dozen of then-gridlocked-by-copyright episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and made DVDs of them for birthday gifts (a huge task now since negated by Shout! Factory’s recent deal to release MST3K episodes based on Universal Studios’ classic ’50s sci-fi movies). So I’m quite comfortable and familiar with the actual physical task involved; it’s mostly of matter of getting organized.

The first step in this whole endeavor was, naturally, seeing what had already been released on disc by Warner Home Video, which shorts were still unreleased, and then seeing which of those shorts I already had on tape. Getting a list of shorts not on DVD was relatively easy; my fan site The Bugs Bunny Video Guide was formed with that essential purpose in mind. The real task was cross-referencing that information with the 160 VHS and Beta tapes in my collection; some store-bought retail items, some fan tapes from trades, and many more recordings made off TV.

Luckily for me, I suppose, I had already logged all of my Looney Tunes tapes and recordings and made a running total of what I still needed, what was available where, which versions of shorts I had, etc. After all, you don’t get to be considered obsessed about anything unless you’re ready to make many tedious, mind-numbingly long lists.

By my count, I had 572 cartoons on tape that had not been released on DVD or Blu-ray. Now, that doesn’t complete the studio’s filmography at all; there are still many, many shorts and variations that I simply was never able to acquire for one reason or another. That’s not really the point of the project anyway; it’s merely to transfer what I do have so that I can still enjoy it until the time that the material gets released officially. And I should add that my number includes alternate versions of some of the same shorts: all the black and white Porky Pig cartoons, for example, were colorized at least once–a batch in 1967 and then all of them throughout the 1990s. I am a completist. I love the black and white versions; they are the original, authentic versions of these cartoons and they are a joy to watch…but I also get a kick out of being able to compare them to the computer-colorized attempts of the 1990s. As for the 1967 redrawn versions…well, they are a perverse guilty pleasure for me. If you have never seen one of these abominations, you can’t possibly call yourself a movie fan. These Korean-made monstrosities are what people imagined in their heads back in the 1980s when Ted Turner first started colorizing the classic movies he owned.

Also in my count are my copies of shorts that Warner themselves had botched on their own official releases. In 2010, to cite the major example, two single-disc DVDs were released–Bugs Bunny: Hare Extraordinaire and Daffy Duck: Frustrated Fowl–in which cartoons originally released after 1953 were cropped to be presented in a fake “widescreen” format. The Looney Tunes cartoons were always produced and animated in full frame, but because the widescreen format was the big new thing in the late ’50s many theaters projected them matted in order to conform with the rest of the program. In the process, visual gags get clipped off, characters’ heads and feet got lopped off, and a lot of the backgrounds and visual designs that were so crucial to the artistic quality of the shorts in that era were compromised. These DVDs marked the first time Warner Home Video has ever “experimented” with the formatting of the cartoons, and only after six entire boxed sets had been released in full frame with most of the major entries from the “widescreen era”–What’s Opera, Doc?, One Froggy Evening, Robin Hood Daffy, etc.–presented in their intended full frame aspect ratio. It’s not like the studio offered a choice; it just simply said, “Okay, four hundred cartoons in, and we’re switching to widescreen versions.” I’m sure collectors of anything reading this understand and agree that collections need to be uniformed. To suddenly tinker with something mid-stream is a bit of a cheat. To use an obvious example, it would have been like if the recent remastered Beatles CD were only in mono up until “the white album” and then only in stereo after that. I like to believe that Looney Tunes fans are as passionate about the shorts as Beatles fans are about their music, so if Apple was smart enough to offer a choice between mono and stereo versions, then why wasn’t Warner smart enough to offer a choice between widescreen and full frame?

But I digress. So, between five to six hundred. Where the heck do I begin? I’m dealing with cartoons spread out over 160 videos–not to mention all the other numerous bumpers, commercials, title cards, and other miscellaneous items that would make great “bonus features.” I needed to see what all I was going to work with and find out how to best arrange them. Before I even started copying and burning, I wanted to program the DVDs and lay them out.

I thought this was going to be the hardest step, because surely I just have too many odds and ends…they couldn’t POSSIBLY be organized into single-disc DVDs with any individual themes, right? I just knew I was going to be stuck with some crazy layout like a disc with three Bugs shorts, a Tweety, a solo Elmer Fudd, and ten random Merrie Melodies from the 1930s. But surprisingly, utilizing a skill only those of us who assemble Songographies and cartoon video guides possess, I was able to sort them all out and put them into a rough draft of disc lineups as good as anything found on any of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection sets.

Allowing some wiggle room for disc space, tape problems, and the like, here is approximately how the discs are going to be laid out:

1. Bugs Bunny: The 1940s and 1950s
2. Bugs Bunny: The 1950s and 1960s
3. Bugs Bunny vs. Yosemite Sam
4. Bugs, Daffy, and Elmer
5. Daffy Duck and Porky Pig
6. Daffy Duck: The 1940s
7. Daffy Duck: The 1950s and 1960s
8. Speedy Gonzales
9. Speedy Gonzales vs. Daffy Duck
10. Road Runner
11-12. Black and white Porky Pig
13. Colorized Porky Pig (1967 versions)
14-19. Colorized Porky Pig (1990s versions)
20. Tweety: The 1950s
21. Tweety: The 1950s and 1960s
22. Hippety Hopper and Sylvester Jr.
23. Porky Pig and Sylvester (as in solo shorts of each)
24. Bosko and Buddy
25. Buddy
26. Foghorn Leghorn and Henery Hawk
27. Cool Cat and the Seven Arts era
28. Chuck Jones Mini-Series: Ralph Wolf/Sam Sheepdog, Inki, and the Three Bears
29. The Evowution: Egghead to Elmer Fudd
30. Looney Tunes All-Stars
31-35. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: The 1930s (one-shots)
36. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: The 1930s and 1940s (one-shots)
37-39. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: The 1940s (one-shots)
40. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: The 1940s and 1950s (one-shots)

In the process of assembling the lineups for these discs, I was already picturing the menu designs and disc artwork in my head. I wanted both to be simple; again, something uniform. I will most likely be utilizing the iconic concentric circles of the Warner Bros. bullseye opening. It’s not the most mind-blowing concept for a Looney Tunes DVD, but those rings can be presented in a variety of different colors for each disc, giving each DVD its own identity while make it all (hopefully) pleasing to the eye as a whole.

BUT, all of this cloudtalk was meaningless if I didn’t actually sit down and start transferring cartoons into files for burning. I decided to do the most logical thing (to me, anyway): start with the oldest videos and work my way up. Some of my Warner Home Video cassettes date back to 1982, and a few are about as rare of Kryptonite (I’m talking Looney Tunes Video Show #4 and 5 rare). I suppose it could be argued that I should have started with my own recordings first because any commercial release is replaceable, but my attitude is that if there is something wrong with one of my own tapes then it’s a problem no matter when I get to it. I’m willing to accept a loss of one of my tapes; replacing a VHS tape in 2013 that was hard to find ten years ago is another story.

In cases where the same cartoon appears on numerous Warner VHS tapes, I am deferring to the more recent releases, as the studio attempted to make better video masters for commercial release in preparation for their eventual DVD release (restoring title sequences, etc.). For the former Turner-owned package of pre-1948 cartoons, whenever possible I am sticking with the MGM Home Video VHS releases of the early-to-mid-1990s, as they used complete prints with the bullseye sequence and had not yet replaced the end tags with the “Dubbed Version” endings as seen on Cartoon Network from 1995-on. The only thing that would prevent me from using the MGM videos would be their occasional knack to somehow “read” when they’re being copied and therefore fade the contrast in and out again and again. In all cases, I am trying to use the best known VHS-era master in my possession.

Yes, it does sound like a lot of fuss, but you have to understand how cartoon fans think. Most of us want perfection or, barring that, at least a clean picture without logos, interruptions, or edits. Some collectors were so paranoid about this that–I kid you not–a number of them were convinced that Warner releases manufactured on leftover VHS stock (as in duplicating a Bugs Bunny release over, say, an unsold Superman II cassette) meant a lesser picture quality. There was a very brief time in collector circles where people were actively avoiding “rainbows” at the beginning of the Warner VHS releases, a clear indication of a reused cassette.

My first goal was to get the 1982 Looney Tunes Video Show releases and then the 1985-86 Golden Jubilee tapes done with. My Golden Jubilee videos in particular had been heavily replayed over the years, so I wanted to make sure those were transferred over before they melted before my eyes.

In my first batch, I was able to get eight cartoons from the various Golden Jubilee videos transferred, nine from the Looney Tunes Video Show volumes, and even five from the 1988 Cartoon Cavalcade series and two more from two 1990s Bugs collections. Funny enough, since I had transferred these shorts, Warner Home Video released two DVD collections–Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles and Porky & Friends: Hilarious Ham–that covered four of the shorts I had converted. As I said, I am more than happy to see that happen. If more releases get announced for this year that take some more off my list, I’ll be a happy camper. It will result in less work for me, more space on my own discs for my project, and high quality copies of more cartoons out on the market.

I have got a very, very, VERY long way to go. I will keep posting updates big and small here on my blog. Again, I don’t know who exactly will find interest in this project. If you’re one of them, then stick around. This is only the beginning, folks!

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Why “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is NOT a holiday song…and other rantings about radio programming of the season

Posted in Beatles,Christmas,Cleveland,holiday,music,radio,Weird Al by catradhtem on the November 30th, 2011

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time in the car lately; I wouldn’t necessarily say more time than usual, but enough to become a frequent radio listener. One thing everyone should know about me is that when listening to the radio, there are only three things that will make me want to immediately change the station without question or debate: the Kid Rock song “Picture,” one of the worst things ever committed to tape; Nickelback’s insipid “Rockstar”; and the whiny, wimpy, cancer-deserving voice of Dave Matthews.

And when it’s Christmastime every year, I add one fourth, final option: “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”

For those of you who are unaware of it, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is an Academy Award-winning song originally written in 1936 by Frank Loesser that publicly debuted in the 1949 Esther Williams vehicle Neptune’s Daughter. To cash in on the success of the movie, a number of recordings of the song by such artists as Dinah Shore and Ella Fitzgerald were released throughout the year to commercial success. The song, in its most cynical form, is about a sexual predator trying to talk a girl into staying at his place so he can rape the shit out of her. It’s essentially the 1940s version of “Funky Cold Medina.”

Like a lot of torch songs from the 1930s-1940s, I first became aware of it from that celebration of all things entertainment, The Muppet Show. In one of the series’s watershed episodes, legendary ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev sings a duet of the song with Miss Piggy, with the roles reversed as the diva tries to prevent the (gay) ballet star from leaving a sauna. It’s a cute scene; heck, it’s a fairly cute song.

But it’s NOT a Christmas song. It was never meant to be. Yet for some reason, adult contemporary stations around the country have in recent years insisted on cramming various versions of it into their holiday programming–and now sadly to the point where modern artists are recording “new” versions in lieu of recordings of actual traditional holiday standards.

This is not open to debate or interpretation. It’s not a Christmas song; it wasn’t even written with any holiday in mind. It’s simply a song that mentions a temperature.

Everyone can blame this seasonal confusion in part on none other than Dean Martin. In 1959 Deano released A Winter Romance, an album primarily containing songs related to the winter months. Even though most of the album was reissued six years later as Holiday Cheer, only two of the album’s songs, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “White Christmas,” specifically mention the holiday that falls on December 25 (it also contains “Winter Wonderland,” but more on that in a moment). The rest of the album mainly focuses on things only related to the concept of being cold: winter, the month of January, Canada, etc. Despite the reissue, Dean never intended it to be a by-definition “holiday” album. Ironically, it worked better as simply a goofy concept album.

But the bigger culprit in this cultural crime has been radio programmers, who in the last couple of decades have been under increased pressure to provide more secular content in their otherwise all-Christmas lineups. Even though the Christmas season had traditionally been full of completely non-religious standards such as “Frosty the Snowman” and “Silver Bells,” stations had jumped on the political correctness train to include songs that couldn’t possibly be construed as appeasing religion.

Look, this isn’t some diatribe for or against religion or how it’s expressed at Christmastime. Frankly, I think Don Wildmon and his fellow “War on Christmas” assholes have a serious screw loose and are a bunch of bigoted hypocrites (I already had not one but two of my characters mock them back in December 2005). This is in fact about trying to curb the manufacturing of one more artificial tradition in a season that is already brimming with them to the point of saturation.

It’s something I’ve been saying to friends for years. With each passing year a new Christmas movie, a new Christmas TV special, or whatever emerges, and invariably some of those will become a part of some corporate interest’s annual tradition, and it will get to the point where all the television and radio stations will simply be forced to start their “Christmas” programming earlier and earlier in the year just to accommodate everything. That in fact started this year, where two local radio stations here in Cleveland–“soft rock” station 102.1 WDOK and “oldies” station 105.7 WMJI–officially switched to 24/7 holiday music a week before Thanksgiving. I’m pretty sure they both switched at the exact same time, even though one station is owned by Clear Channel and the other by CBS Radio. At this point, whatever, you know? It’s akin to Coke and Pepsi both offering the same new flavor at the same time. But the point is that it’s already happening; we’re starting the “Christmas season” earlier and earlier. How else does one explain stores opening at nine o’clock on Thanksgiving night?

But as far as television and radio go, there should at least be some sort of attempt at purity to it. I don’t think any of the Harry Potter movies after the second one mention Christmas at all, for example, yet the entire series takes up several nights of ABC Family’s “25 Days of Christmas” campaign. And radio stations shouldn’t need to pad out what should otherwise be ample holiday programming with material that no matter how one slices it only has at best a tenuous connection to the season. “Baby It’s Cold Outside” seems to be included only because of the word “cold.” There are no mentions in the song of a time of year, a holiday of any sort, or even any real numerical temperature. It’s sort of like calling Dumb and Dumber a holiday movie only because Jim Carrey’s character is named Lloyd Christmas.

At the same time, I’m not really crazy about the idea that Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy”–a.k.a. the Peanuts theme–is considered a “Christmas” song as far as radio is concerned. I mean, yeah, I get it; it was originally composed for A Charlie Brown Christmas, but really, that piece of music has so transcended its original intent that to relegate it back to the holiday season is kind of missing the point. But I’ll nevertheless give it a pass only because it’s one of the only times that jazz music–or at least, what marble-headed Charles Schulz and the equally lamey white people at Coca-Cola thought was jazz music at the time–is heard on mainstream adult contemporary FM radio.

Granted a similar argument could be made for a lot of songs that we all consider to be “real” holiday standards. “Frosty the Snowman,” “Jingle Bells,” “Winter Wonderland,” etc. They don’t necessarily refer to Christmas, either, and it’s likely that they’ve all been grandfathered into tradition just by sheer time. But I have to say that it’s not that black and white. Those songs at least convey a sense of the spirit of the holiday season, whether it be because of the whimsical thought of a snowman coming to life or the imagery one conjures up upon hearing about sleigh bells and the like. To equate such elements with “It’s kinda chilly out, so let me rape you” is a little too extreme for me, and only a Sith deals in absolutes.

But honestly, the song supposedly counts because it mentions it being cold outside? Doesn’t that denigrate the meaning of Christmas and the holiday season in general? Even apart from the religious meaning of not only Christmas but the other December holidays, what about just the general spirit of peace on Earth and goodwill toward your fellow persons? I always thought Christmas was about more than just being “the cold holiday.” To negate it like that–and especially with a song that, again, was never meant to be a comment on a holiday by any means–is sort of a sign of ignorance or unfeeling.

This goes to a deeper problem we face every December: that radio stations are severely limiting their annual Christmas playlists, only sticking with maybe a couple dozen of tracks that they seem intent on overplaying ad nauseum to the point where one is sick of them. In the past it had usually been only one song per year that got overplayed. One year recently it was Lou Monte’s dumb but harmless “Dominick the Donkey,” another year it was Straight No Chaser’s oddball version of “12 Days of Christmas,” and this year it seems like it’s going to be the original Burl Ives version of “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas.”

Don’t get me wrong. I like most of the songs that are a part of the normal holiday rotation. I need my Burl Ives fix. I don’t think it’s truly Christmas until I hear Bruce Springsteen screech out “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” the Harry Simeone Chorale “rum” out “The Little Drummer Boy,” or Thurl Ravenscroft croon about the Grinch. BUT, for every standard that I’ve already heard at least a dozen times on the radio this year I am missing some others that too were a part of the holiday season year after year. The handful that stations are sticking with are getting overplayed and overplayed. Heck, on more than one occasion I’ve switched over from one station to another only to hear the song that just ended on the station I had left.

Yes, there are certain songs that need to be buried and never to be heard from again. “The Christmas Shoes” for one. And this may sound incredibly insane, but we have had not one but two songs themed around Cleveland, “Christmas in Cleveland” and “Merry Cleveland Christmas.” The less said about either of these, the better, but let’s just say they reek of the work of some “fill in the blank” custom-song service. Do not seek these songs out for yourself, for your own sake!

But already this year I’m sorely missing songs that in the past I could always count on being a part of the normal holiday season. I need to hear the renditions of “12 Days of Christmas,” “Deck the Halls,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by John Denver and the Muppets; “Little St. Nick” by the Beach Boys; Bob Rivers’s “12 Pains of Christmas”; “Christmas in Hollis” via Run-D.M.C.; the Eurythmics’ “Winter Wonderland”; Chuck Berry’s “Run Run Rudolph”; the breathtaking Pretenders song “2000 Miles”; Willie Nelson’s bittersweet recording of “Pretty Paper”; and the king of novelty Christmas songs, the Seymour Swine version of “Blue Christmas.”

And that’s just the tip of the North Pole iceberg; that’s merely listing the songs that used to be standards on the radio this time of year. There is a whole slew of other songs–recorded by extremely well known artists–that as far as I can tell have never been a part of normal Christmas radio programming.

For example, I have never heard on the radio a song called “Christmas Time (Is Here Again),” which is a rather rockin’ and upbeat number from 1967.

Oh, and did I mention it was recorded by the Beatles?

Yeah, as in the Beatles Beatles. It was recorded shortly after production wrapped on Magical Mystery Tour and was initially released as a single through the group’s fan club. It would later see a more public release (albeit in edited form) as the b-side to their 1995 “reunion” single, “Free as a Bird.” So this is the Beatles at their peak–just six months removed from Sgt. Pepper’s–recording a Christmas song. It was not only one of the Fab Four’s rare group compositions, but each of the boys even get their only vocal spotlight–including George, who unlike his cohorts never recorded his own solo Christmas tune. It’s fun, catchy, and like everything else they touched represents a little bit of history.

But worthy to hear on the radio? Evidently not. Not even on the “oldies” station that during the rest of the year has a daily feature called “The Fab Four at Four” (as in o’clock). Nope, they would rather ram Celine Dion’s grating cover of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” down our throats.

Or did you know that the Monkees recorded a Christmas song? Or Norah Jones? Or the Moody Blues? Or Kenny Rogers? Or Spinal Tap? And you should know by now that I have to mention that “Weird Al” Yankovic recorded not one but two holiday songs (or three if one counts “Weasel Stomping Day”). But no, mixing up the selection with cuts by established artists is impossible; the stations have decided that people instead want umpteenth playings of “Last Christmas,” “Where Are You Christmas,” and whatever the hell that Dan Folgelberg song is (and more on that in a bit).

I cannot begin to explain how much I would love to be a radio program director at Christmastime. I would pull from all sources, make sure every kind of artist and genre is represented, and make sure the favorites are in rotation without sacrificing exposing listeners to a potential new favorite. I guess I sort of naively thought that the actual programmers would feel the same and with the same level of enthusiasm. But it seems instead every station just gets its government-issued copy of A Very Special Christmas Volume One and feels like that’s enough…or worse, they leave the decisions to an online poll. It’s crass laziness, and at a time of year where one would ideally eschew either crassness or laziness.

Speaking of otherwise irrelevant songs, why does that idiotic Dan Folgelberg song “Same Old Lang Syne” turn up every year? You know that one, the annoying “we drank a toast to innocence” song about some burnt-out singer who runs into an old girlfriend at a grocery store on Christmas Eve, but instead of either of them returning to their loved ones they go to a park to get hammered. It’s an otherwise sappy, whiny ballad, but because it has a reference to Christmas wedged into the beginning and then ends with the melody of “Auld Lang Syne” we have to hear this crap every year? Is that some last-ditch effort by pop/rock has-beens to remain immortal, cutting a quasi-Christmas record? How else does one explain repulsive shit like Neil Diamond’s recent A Cherry Cherry Christmas album? Dinosaurs desperately trying to prevent themselves from becoming oil.

I would say that radio listeners need to take a stand and tell stations to stop playing crap every year, but really, by now, what’s the point? Why stop at “Baby It’s Cold Outside?” Why not add “Ice Ice Baby” to the rotation? Or “Hot N Cold?” “Freeze Frame?” If we’re going to make a ridiculous exception for one, then how far can this possibly go?

And hey, John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change” mentions Christmas, so why isn’t that ever added to the mix? So does Elton John’s “Levon,” Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” Ben Folds’s “Brick,” Neil Sedaka’s “Calendar Girl,” and many others. Hell, for years “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music was played at Christmas because it mentions–in passing!–snowflakes and wrapped packages (in brown paper, yet!). So really, what precedent is being set here?

Anyway, it’s something to think about. I’m off to watch my favorite Christmas movie, Die Hard.