Thursday, December 18, 2014

It's Christmas Time (and Time for a Carol) -- Refreshed

Originally posted December 20, 2009

While there might be people on earth that love Christmas music as much as I do, I doubt that anyone loves it more. How could I not love it when it combines super cheesy (I really want to spell that word cheesey, but I always get a red line under it when I do) music and playing the same songs over and over. And since I only have about a month to get away with it, I try to take full advantage of it.

This was the first post I wrote about Christmas music on this blog, almost five years ago to the day. In that post, I wrote, "I've created my 'must hear' Christmas playlist." Apparently I can and do get tired of *some* Christmas songs. This list would be drastically different if I were writing about Christmas music for the first time today. However, I'm going to leave the list intact and just update my comments. 

The list is split into categories of classic (before 1970), modern (1970-present) and TV (songs I associate mostly with Christmas specials). 


10. Jolly Old St. Nicholas, Ray Conniff -- When we were kids we only had two Christmas albums: We Wish You a Merry Christmas by the Ray Conniff Singers and Holiday Singalong with Mitch by Mitch Miller and the Gang (not to be confused with Kool and the Gang). These days I mostly listen to more pop-py Christmas music, so this hasn't gotten much play the last couple years. I think it has a lot to do with the next sentence, which I wrote in 2009. The only thing that keeps it from being higher on the list is that it is done as a medley with The Little Drummer Boy, one of my least favorite Christmas songs ever. (I can't overstate how much I hate that song. I'd rather here Gilbert Godfrey sing Jolly Old St. Nicholas than hear *anyone* sing Drummer Boy.)

9. O Little Town of Bethlehem, Sister Rosetta Tharpe -- I hated this song as a kid. It was always done by a choir and it was sooooooo drab and somber. But one of the first Christmas CDs I ever bought was Have Yourself a Jazzy Little Christmas and this was on it. It completely changed the way I felt about this song. Check it out if you haven't heard this version. That was 2009. I'm listening to it now and it's quite good, but I've basically pulled it from rotation because I always want to hear something else more than this.

8. Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Andy Williams -- Obviously everyone knows this song. In my opinion, Andy Williams is the only person that should ever be allowed to sing it. Nothing to add here. There are days when I feel like Andy Williams is the only person who should be allowed to sing most Christmas music.

7. Silver Bells, Mitch Miller -- I usually prefer a solo version of a song to these "gang" -style renditions, but this was my favorite song as a kid and I can't shake it. I still get all tingly when they sing, "Soon it will be Christmas Day." If I'm being perfectly honest, since Katharine McPhee recorded her Christmas album with this song on it, I pretty much exclusively listen to that version.

6. Ole Santa, Dinah Washington -- I've never heard any other version of this song than Dinah Washington's; I couldn't even find it on youtube by anyone else but her. Doesn't matter though, because I can't see how anyone could do it better. I checked youtube again today to see if there was another version of this song. Nothing. So Dinah recorded this song in 1959 and since then no one has even tried to improve on it (or I'm the only person who likes this song at all).

5. When a Child Is Born, Johnny Mathis -- I have to admit, the super religious Christmas songs are not usually among my favorites. I don't know what it is about this one. Maybe it's Johnny Mathis' voice, which couldn't possibly be any smoother. Or maybe it's that the song just exudes hope. And I love the lyric, "For a spell or two, no one seems forlorn." Yeah, what I said in 2009.

4. Count Your Blessings, Ray Conniff Singers -- This is part of another medley on the Ray Conniff album. You have to listen to a bland rendition of Let it Snow before you get to this, but it's worth it. I think I learned to roll my eyes listening to this song because I always thought it was so corny as a kid. But as an adult, I'm pretty corny. And this song always makes me smile. It's funny how the brain works. When I bought this CD in 2009 after not listening to it for years, I was certain that Jolly Old St. Nicholas and Count Your Blessings were in the same medley. No such luck.

3. Sleigh Ride, Mitch Miller -- Maybe it's because the lyrics of this song are so dated and folksy that Mitch and the gang do it so well, but I've never heard a version of this song that I've liked even half as much as this one. That statement is probably still true, even though Kat McPhee does a version of it. They nailed the spirit of this carol.

2. We Need a Little Christmas, Angela Lansbury -- It's criminal what Lucille Ball did to this song in the movie version. Thankfully, this version is brilliant. Plus, with Christmas starting the day after Halloween now, I love the quaintness of Angela worrying that she might be rushing things one week past Thanksgiving day. This is always in the very first rotation of Christmas songs that I play on Thanksgiving night.

1. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Ella Fitzgerald -- Simply one of the most perfect voices in the world singing the most perfect Christmas song. Almost everyone else does this as a melancholy song. Ella brings a "que sera sera" quality to it that is just perfect (and a little ironic in that Doris Day also does this song, but doesn't even come close to this). When she sings “Someday soon we all will be together” I feel like it will really will be soon. If you haven't heard her sing it, you haven't heard Christmas music.


10. Winter Wonderland, Eurythmics -- I didn't used to love this song, but it's definitely grown on me the last several years. I must be hot and cold with this song, because I'm back to not loving it.

9. Do They Know It's Christmas, BandAid -- There's just no way I can leave this off the list. When else can you hear George Michael, Bono, Boy George and Sting all in the same song? Even though it's essential, I play it sparingly. It's kind of depressing and I'm not about the “Have yourself a maudlin little Christmas” music. I've tried a bunch of different versions and I can tell you, don't bother. If you're going to play this song, it pretty much has to be this version.

8. Christmas in Hollis, Run DMC -- If you had asked me in 1987, when A Very Special Christmas was released, I'd have told you I would never listen to this song. But more than 20 years later, it's still a mainstay in my Christmas mix. Go figure. LOVE LOVE LOVE this song. If I were going to update the list this would definitely be higher up.

7. Step Into Christmas, Elton John -- There aren't nearly enough Christmas songs with this kind of energy. Thank god I'm updating this blog because I realized this song isn't on this year's playlist and there's not a single good reason for that. It's my first episode of chair dancing tonight.

6. Silent Night, Stevie Nicks -- I used to joke that they must have thought it would be funny to have a witch singing the most sacred of Christmas songs, but the truth is you won't hear a version of this song anywhere that is more respectful of the spirit of it. It's beautiful. I've embedded the live version here.

5. Father Christmas, The Kinks -- OK. I know this is more an anti-Christmas song, but I like to think it's just a warning of what can happen in places where they call Santa something as silly as Father Christmas. Warning: don't play this one around the kiddies. Apparently The Kinks are under the delusion that Santa is fictitious.

4. Do You Hear What I Hear, Whitney Houston -- Do I even need to explain this one? I love remembering this Whitney. And they should have stopped after the first A Very Special Christmas. I don't think I've ever included a single song from any of the subsequent albums on one of my playlists.

3. All I Want for Christmas Is You, Mariah Carey -- Back in the day, I was not a Mariah Carey fan. It wasn't until about 2005 that I really started liking her. But this was always one of two exceptions I made (along with Always Be My Baby). Let's forget about what happened at Rockefeller Center this year and listen to 1996 Mariah sing this live.

2. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), U2 -- If it weren't for Bono's incredible voice, I wouldn't care if I ever heard this Christmas song again. Instead, it's one of my five favorites of all time. It may have been pushed out of the top five by some newer carols, but it's probably still top ten.

1. Merry Christmas Darling, The Carpenters -- What I said about Ella Fitzgerald above applies equally here. In fact, I'll go one better. If I could only listen to one Christmas album for the rest of my life, it would be The Carpenters' A Christmas Portrait. That's what I wrote in 2009. I think now it would be a toss up with Kelly's Christmas album but it's really now this has moved into the realm of classic rather than modern.


I assume everyone who grew up in America is familiar with these songs and why they are essential, so I'll just list them without comment:

6. We're a Couple of Misfits (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

5. Holly Jolly Christmas (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

4. You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

3. First Toymaker to the King (Santa Claus is Coming to Town)

2. Trim Up the Tree (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

1. Linus and Lucy (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

Which songs are you listening to this Christmas?

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