For the self-proclaimed King of Jingaling, if it doesn't have sleigh bells, it's just not music.
Author K. Leander Williams Illustration Andrew Holder
HOLIDAY MUSIC OFTEN gets a bad rap, and Bob Dylan’s recent surreal croaker, Christmas in the Heart, isn’t likely to change that (though the royalties go to charity, which is a plus). Nor will the new offerings by Sting, Michael McDonald and Judas Priest’s leathery singer Rob Halford do much to warm the hearts of true yule-tune aficionados. Yet each December, they arrive, like intrusive relatives. “Record labels still see Christmas records as sort of a cash cow—hence the sheer number of them,” says Brad Ross-MacLeod, the self-proclaimed King of Jingaling, who prefers the more obscure entries. “It’s amazing the number of fantastic composers and arrangers who have been all but forgotten.”
Ross-MacLeod, a schoolteacher in Kenosha, Wisconsin, grew up on classics by The Hollyridge Strings and the British vocal arranger Mike Sammes. Four years ago, his search for these and other chestnuts prompted him to found falalalala.com, which has become the goto site for vintage Christmas-music connoisseurs, logging more than 1.5 million hits during the 2008 holiday season.
“The period I’m interested in stretches from about the late ’40s to the mid-’70s,” the King explains matter-of-factly. “You know how your parents had those three Christmas records they pulled out every year? Well, if you think about it, those songs actually become Christmas for you. What the site does is connect people who are looking for a favorite old record with experts”—his “elves.”
Fittingly, perusing the site is a bit like being transported back in time, with Ross-MacLeod cueing up the best tracks from vinyl LPs others of us might overlook in thrift stores. Every day between December 1 and Christmas, he posts a different gem, the culmination of which is a downloadable compilation, Adventure in Carols. He doesn’t upload anything available on CD or MP3, so it’s quite possible that falalalala.com is the only place to find, say, The Caroleers’ version of the Texas swing ditty “When Santa Claus Gets Your Letter” or the Brazilian group Os Velhinhos Transviados’ “Noite Silenciosa,” a funky take on “Silent Night.”
Though he admits to being a little “obsessed,” Ross-MacLeod says his passion for the holidays is purely musical. “It’s not like if you rode by my house you’d see over-the-top decorations,” he says. “My wife and I have a vintage white Christmas tree—maybe a little on the kitschy side, but that’s about it.”
K. LEANDER WILLIAMS is in search of a more festive holiday hat.