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Why Are There No Great Easter Songs?

Although I don’t have time to count them, since life expectancy in the United States is only 78.2 years, I suspect that the number of winter holiday songs—and I refer ecumenically not only to Christmas music but to tunes broadly celebrating the wintery season—must be around a zillion kazillion. From the morning after Halloween until New Year’s Day, they are inescapable, and singers in innumerable styles (and of varying religious and cultural backgrounds) keep making CDs of songs still widely thought of as Christmas music. Waiting in the checkout line at Duane Reade this week, I inched past the displays of candy bunnies, baskets of plastic straw, and chocolate-covered matzoh—I live on the Upper West Side in Manhattan—and started wondering why there’s such a paucity of holiday music for the spring season.

Among those zillion kazillion winter-holiday songs, there are not only lovely traditional carols but also pop tunes whose quality I can admire at the same time I hate their oppressive over-use year after year (“White Christmas,” “Sleigh Bells,” “Winter Wonderland,” and such). Why do they have so few parallels in the spring? Where are the great songs of Easter and Passover? I can think only of Irving Berlin’s “Easter Parade,” a reminder that the great Jewish songwriters of the Tin Pan Alley era could have written albums full of Easter songs without any Christianity. Just as “White Christmas” is concerned not with the birth of Jesus, but with snow, “Easter Parade” deals not with the resurrection of Christ, but with dressing up.

By extension of the terms by which we think of “Sleigh Bells” and “Winter Wonderland” as Christmas songs, we could count all the songs about spring as Easter music, and we’d have quite a few gems: “Spring Is Here,” by Rodgers and Hart; “It Might As Well Be Spring” by Rodgers and Hammerstein; “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” by the talented journeymen Frank Landesman and Tommy Wolf; “Spring Is a New Beginning,” by the under-appreciated writers Mickey Leonard and Herb Martin; and even “Chapel of Love,” by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, and Phil Spector (“Spring is here/the sky is blue/birds will sing/as if they knew...”). It is telling, though, that the strongest of those songs—“Spring Is Here” and “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most”—upend the conventional view of spring as the season of rebirth (or resurrection). They use spring as the setting for expressions of disenchantment or remorse.

The power of Christmas songs, clearly, is their evocation of hope, dreams of the future. The problem with the spring season in general and both Easter and Passover in particular—as themes for songs—is that they represent hopes fulfilled. Where’s the fun in that? After all, there are considerably more songs about wanting to fall in love than there are songs about being happily married—at least two zillion kazillion.

Here, one of the most wistful of all spring songs not really about spring: Frank Loesser’s “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year,” as introduced by Deanna Durbin in a grim 1944 film noir with the wildly misleading title Christmas Holiday: