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NPR Weekend hosts debate a thorny topic: holiday music

(SOUNDBITE OF LEROY ANDERSON SONG, "SLEIGH RIDE")

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

You know, people can get a little feisty about holiday music, and I definitely am one of them. Everyone has opinions, lots of opinions. Mine are all correct, but we decided (laughter) to ring in the season with a challenge - a holiday music throw down between me and a special guest, Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon. Welcome to Sunday.

SCOTT SIMON, BYLINE: It's very good to be with you, Ayesha, and in the spirit of the holiday. I'm so glad we can get together in an atmosphere of amity and mutual respect.

RASCOE: (Laughter). And...

SIMON: And somebody else is here, right?

RASCOE: And someone else is here.

SIMON: Either that or Scott Detrow is just lurking.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: I'm just - yeah, I'm just creeping in the corner of the studio. I - do you need me?

RASCOE: We need a referee.

DETROW: Wow, glad to be here.

RASCOE: So yes.

DETROW: All right, so I've got a list of questions here. The question I have here is a song that you must sing along with loud and proud no matter where you are, and it is written here for me to say, you are required to sing your response.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

SIMON: (Singing) Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose...

DETROW: That's good.

SIMON: (Singing) ...Yuletide...

RASCOE: Yeah.

SIMON: (Singing) ...Carols being sung by a choir.

RASCOE: What...

SIMON: And it's - I should say, everything traces through Chicago. This is a song with the fingerprints of two great South Side Chicagoans. It's written by Mel Torme and, of course, originally recorded by Nat King Cole.

RASCOE: So mine - nobody wants to hear me sing, but I will sing a little bit of it.

SIMON: Yeah.

RASCOE: (Singing) What do they do? What do they do at Christmas?

SIMON: I think that's beautiful.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT DO THE LONELY DO AT CHRISTMAS?")

THE EMOTIONS: (Singing) What do they do? What do they do at Christmas?

RASCOE: And who - what - who am I talking about?

(Singing) What do they do? What do they do at Christmas?

I'm talking about the lonely. What do the lonely do at Christmas? And you have to sing it with passion because that's the way The Emotions sing it. They're, like, how can I be happy when I have nobody (laughter)?

DETROW: This is a draw because you both brought such passion and...

RASCOE: OK.

DETROW: ...Spirit to it.

RASCOE: OK, it's a draw.

DETROW: And I enjoyed hearing...

RASCOE: So we both get a point.

DETROW: ...Both of you sing.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSE FELICIANO SONG, "FELIZ NAVIDAD")

DETROW: What is a song that's just got to be played in your house because your kids love it, not necessarily because you love it? And I ask this having driven to school this morning listening to a version of "Jingle Bells" in which it wasn't lyrics but rather farts.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

DETROW: Scott, what's...

SIMON: "Feliz Navidad."

DETROW: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FELIZ NAVIDAD")

JOSE FELICIANO: (Singing) Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad, (singing in Spanish)...

SIMON: (Singing) I want to wish you a merry Christmas...

RASCOE: (Laughter).

SIMON: (Singing) I want to wish you - look. See. They're moving in the control room. But I - yes, I'm sorry.

RASCOE: So mine is one that I really like, but my kids love it and have to listen to it all the time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU")

MARIAH CAREY: (Singing) I won't even stay awake to hear those magic reindeer click, 'cause I just want you here tonight, holding on to me so tight...

RASCOE: And my daughter, my middle child - she goes, (singing) all I want for Christmas is you.

And then she goes, mommy, how did that - does - don't I sound just like her?

SIMON: Aw.

RASCOE: And I say, yes, you do. You do sound just like her.

SIMON: That's adorable.

DETROW: Point Ayesha.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

SIMON: Yeah, yeah, even I agree with that.

(LAUGHTER)

DETROW: What is a song that makes you weepy or nostalgic at Christmastime, Ayesha?

RASCOE: So my weepy and nostalgic song is "White Christmas" by Otis Redding.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHITE CHRISTMAS")

OTIS REDDING: (Singing) And may all, all of your Christmases - and may all, and may all of your Christmases, baby, may your days, may your days be merry, merry, so merry and bright, Lord, have mercy...

RASCOE: The way he sings that song, it's like a gospel song. It's like he is wishing - he - like, he has all this love in his heart, and the way he's wishing to give that to the person - he's saying, I want you to have a white Christmas.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHITE CHRISTMAS")

REDDING: (Singing) I'm dreaming of a white Christmas. I'm dreaming, dreaming of a white, white Christmas, baby...

RASCOE: I'm about to cry now. It's beautiful.

SIMON: It is beautiful.

RASCOE: It's a gospel song. It really feels like a gospel song.

DETROW: What about you, Scott?

SIMON: "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas."

DETROW: Yeah.

SIMON: Judy Garland version. Judy, Judy, Judy. When she gets to the line...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS")

JUDY GARLAND: (Singing) Someday soon, we all will be together, if the fates allow...

SIMON: ...Oh, if the fates allow. I think of my mother, my late mother. I think of my late mother-in-law. I think of kids I grew up with.

DETROW: Yeah.

SIMON: My Auntie Chris (ph), my Auntie Abba (ph) - - their memories are still part of our lives.

DETROW: Yeah. I'm going to give that point to Scott, and I...

RASCOE: Yeah.

DETROW: ...Thank you both. I can hear both of those songs and the way that you hear them, and I understand how they register, and I also love them both.

OK, this is a tone shift, but I'm very curious to hear the answers to this one - a song that you never want to hear again.

(LAUGHTER)

DETROW: What is this Christmas song? You're just - nope, can't do it. Scott, what about - you go first.

RASCOE: Yeah, you're first.

SIMON: "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer."

RASCOE: Oh, my goodness.

SIMON: I don't want to hear that ever again.

RASCOE: Yeah.

SIMON: I mean, it's not a bad tune, but I find the lyrics unfair to Santa.

RASCOE: So the one that I don't want to hear anymore - and it's not that I don't want to hear it anymore - we're going to get letters. Listen, it's just not my cup of tea. But I'm going to be honest because it's the Christmas season.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AVE MARIA")

MIRUSIA: (Singing in non-English language).

RASCOE: I'm not...

SIMON: Whoa (laughter).

RASCOE: ...Into it. I'm not into it.

AYESHA RASCOE AND SCOTT SIMON: (Singing) Ave Maria...

RASCOE: I love - look, I love the Lord. I love Jesus. I love Mary. But I don't want it. I don't want that song (laughter).

DETROW: You know what? You know what? I just want Sister Geraldine (ph) and everybody else listening who helped educate me to know that I'm giving Scott this point. Because "Ave Maria" is a beautiful song. I can never hear enough of. Nothing bad about it coming from me.

RASCOE: (Laughter) OK, well...

SIMON: Oh, my God, she's been turned into a pillar of salt.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AVE MARIA")

MIRUSIA: (Singing in non-English language).

DETROW: Moment of truth here - what is your all-time favorite holiday song? Ayesha?

RASCOE: This is easy - my all-time favorite holiday song - because I know it is the best Christmas song ever made. And that is "This Christmas" by Donny Hathaway. How you make a love song to Christmas? That's what Donny Hathaway did. The best song ever - I don't know what you're going to say. If it's not "This Christmas," you're wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS CHRISTMAS")

DONNY HATHAWAY: (Singing) Hang all the mistletoe. I'm gonna get to know you better this Christmas. And as we trim the tree, how much fun it's gonna be together this Christmas.

RASCOE: (Singing) This Christmas.

SIMON: Even I'm singing along.

DETROW: Yeah.

RASCOE: And then we gon (ph) carol through the night.

AYESHA RASCOE AND SCOTT DETROW: (Singing) Caroling through the night.

DETROW: Yep.

RASCOE: (Singing) And this Christmas will be - it's gon be a very special Christmas for you and me. That's it.

DETROW: It's only going to be a special Christmas for Scott Simon, depending on the strength of this last answer...

SIMON: Yeah, I know.

RASCOE: So what is this? What is this?

DETROW: All-time.

SIMON: Against all expectation - and I think it's the most artful Christmas song ever - Tim Minchin, best known as the composer of "Matilda The Musical" - Tim is an outspoken atheist and the most wonderful song that he wrote when he was spending his first winter in London and his infant daughter had been born, and he was thinking of his family in Australia, where it's summer...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHITE WINE IN THE SUN")

TIM MINCHIN: (Singing) They'll be drinking white wine in the sun.

SIMON: ...And I'm going to get a little overcome because he sings to his daughter...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHITE WINE IN THE SUN")

MINCHIN: (Singing) And you won't understand but you will learn someday that wherever you are and whatever you face, these are the people who'll make you feel safe in this world.

SIMON: Wherever you are and whatever you face, these are the people who'll make you feel safe in this world.

RASCOE: Oh...

SIMON: I'm sorry (laughter).

RASCOE: That's beautiful.

SIMON: I'm sorry. I just...

RASCOE: That's beautiful. That's beautiful.

SIMON: I think it's the most...

RASCOE: Yeah.

SIMON: And that's what the holidays and humanity are all about.

DETROW: You know what? This is a little Hallmark movie in in one radio segment right here.

RASCOE: Yes.

DETROW: Because we started with Ayesha's competition and confrontation...

RASCOE: (Laughter) Yes.

DETROW: But I have been won over by the spirit of love here.

RASCOE: (Laughter) Yes.

DETROW: And I love all these Christmas songs. And Christmas is the winner - The Christmas season is the winner.

RASCOE: Christmas - oh, there's no winner. That's true. That's true.

DETROW: My heart is growing three sizes as we speak.

RASCOE: (Laughter) Three sizes...

DETROW: I need to move back from the microphone.

SIMON: Your buttons are popping.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WELCOME CHRISTMAS")

EUGENE PODDANY: (Singing in non-English language) Welcome Christmas, come this way.

RASCOE: Well, thank you, Scott Detrow, for teaching us all the meaning of Christmas...

DETROW: (Laughter).

RASCOE: ...The true meaning, and also being the host of All Things Considered - both of the Scotts. Thanks both of you for joining us.

DETROW: Both Scotts were happy to be here.

SIMON: Both Scotts were happy to be here.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WELCOME CHRISTMAS")

PODDANY: (Singing in non-English language) Welcome Christmas, Christmas day. Welcome, welcome... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.