The various categories of Christmas music has already been discussed on this list; Christmas tunes about the season, religious carols, winter songs without connection to the holidays to name a few. Then there are songs that end up being somewhere in between. Many songs are so dependent on what memories we have associated with them and that is really what causes them to become categorized as Christmas songs. Many of them end up being part of our joint cultural legacy and some pass by, seemingly unnoticed. Such a song is It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way by Jim Croce.
Croce, 1934-1973, was a folksinger that only rose to prominence after his untimely death in a plane crash. Although respected by the music community he didn’t reach main stream attention until after the release of his final album. With songs like Operator, I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song and Bad Bad Leroy Brown he struck a chord with an audience that was intimately familiar with the blue collar reality he sang about. A father, husband and average Joe he drew heavily on his own experience as a truck driver, loader and general worker. His catalogue balances melancholy ballads about lost loves, gritty tunes about biker bars and tough guys ruling the underworld of urban America. Today a staple of US adult contemporary and oldies stations, as well as some notoriety in the Netherlands, Croce has found the respect he so richly deserves.
It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way is one of Croce’s melancholy tunes depicting a person walking the snowy sidewalks and reminiscing about a failed relationship. How he watches the bustling activities in a city waiting for the holiday season to begin in earnest; off key street choirs, corner Santas and frosty shop windows. He keeps imagining that he could pick up the phone and that everything could be the same, an illusion brought on by lonely reflection on the season or maybe a reality.
Because of its different take on a traditional Christmas tune, but still manages to hit the mark of what the season is about Jim Croce’s tune is number 12 on the Christmas List of Songs.