Memory is a funny thing. They say the sense of smell is the most evocative memory retriever, but I find music has a great power to bring back certain memories as well. Whether they’re songs I listened to during the memory or just ones that put me in mind of it, I have powerful connections between some songs and some memories.
I also have strong memories for songs coming after one another — back in late elementary school and high school, I used to make compilation CDs (the precursor to itunes playlists), and even now (5-10 years later) I’ll hear a song play and then automatically start singing what was next on the CD I made.
I remember songs I was listening to during emotionally difficult times especially. I remember listening to pieces of Coldplay’s album X&Y during a family trip to Washington DC right around the time I was coming out. And I remember listening to Annie Lennox’s Wonderful in particular waiting at the border to get back into Canada.
This song, though, is more fun. Whenever I hear Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride, I’m put in mind of a particular Christmas memory. As a kid, it was family tradition that we would go to a Christmas tree farm and cut down our own tree.
There was this great farm we used to go to in Ontario. Big place, big rolling hills covered with trees. They had a big trailer drawn by…I think most were drawn by tractors, but I want to say there were at least a couple drawn by horses. There was usually snow on the ground when we went, and they had a little place with hot chocolate near the entrance and a roaring fire.
We’d drive there and park, bundle up against the cold and get our big saw, then get on one of those trailers to head out into the trees. We’d find the patch of the species we wanted (short needles, to make hanging decorations easier), then tromp through the snow looking for the perfect one — well filled out, tall but short enough to fit in our house, a nice top spike for the angel. Then we’d cut it down, my brother and I taking turns at the other end of the saw from my dad.
Then we’d have to carry it back through the snow to where the trailer would pick us up (I’m definitely going to go with “horses”, just for the romance of it) and take us back to base camp, where they’d tie up the tree and my mom would get me hot chocolate and I’d warm up by the fire.
That always seemed like the end of the adventure, but then of course there was the struggle of getting the tree into the house, getting it set up, and all that. I think we mostly let my dad deal with those struggles, though. We were busy eating homemade chocolate-dipped shortbread cookies.
It was one of the annual Christmas family traditions that I always really enjoyed, and even when we were too old for the horse-drawn trailer and hot chocolate to be that exciting, it was something I never wanted to let go of. I hope to do it with my own kids.
The orchestral version of Sleigh Ride is the original, and lots of fun (I love the whip sound, and the trumpet’s whinney at the end). Then someone added lyrics, and it became another one of those hackneyed pop Christmas songs. But there is one person who can pull it off better than any others, and manages to be my favourite version of the song. And that’s Holly Cole.
She takes Sleigh Ride and turns it into this really sexy jazzy piece. It’s her voice and a string bass — though the bass manages to be percussion at the same time. It’s minimalist but powerful, fun and smooth. And Holly Cole’s voice is pretty much made of pure distilled sex.