Refrains can be good: Psalm 136 comes to mind. (“His steadfast love endures forever.”) Others seem a little less inspired–if no less fun–filling out a line, looking for a rhyme. “Sha-na-na,” “Na na na na na na na na na na na,” and “Pa rum pa pum pum.”
“The Little Drummer Boy” is proof that oldies are not necessarily goodies. First written in 1941, it has been covered more than 220 times, by artists as diverse as the Trapp Family Singers, Joan Jett, Alicia Keys, Boyz II Men, Gladys Knight, John Denver, the Brady Bunch, Neil Diamond, and a very-strange-bedfellows pairing of Bing Crosby and David Bowie. It was Richard Nixon’s favorite Christmas song. (‘Nuff said.) Apart from its uncreative refrain, the song is a shiny plastic piece of Christmas kitsch, on the order of “Silent Night” or “Away in a Manger,” downplaying the gritty fleshiness of the birth of Jesus.
On the plus side, it is the centerpiece of a charming Rankin-Bass TV special, and I think we can all long for the days when Yuletide TV specials were more like this and less like this.
And, as a holiday bonus, enjoy this little gem: