December 2009


Dan Fogelberg – “Same Old Lang Syne” – (1981)

I’m going to stand by my story of skipping this because it isn’t technically a Christmas song (even though he specifically mentions Christmas). I’m going to say that it’s a New Years song because that’s when Auld Lang Syne is mostly heard. None of this is true of course; I don’t know how I missed this one. It reminds me of “Celebrate Me Home” by Kenny Loggins (#21 on our list of Christmas songs). This really is a fantastic song – a Christmas and soft rock classic.

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Yo-Yo Ma & Friends – Songs of Joy & Peace – (2008)

No one can sanely argue that Yo-Yo Ma isn’t one of the greatest musicians around – of any kind. This album is primarily a Christmas album but there are covers of other songs, notably Ma & James Taylor doing the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” My picks for the album are “Panxoliña: A Galician Carol” (with Cristina Pato) and “A Christmas Jig/Mouth of the Tobique Reel” (with Natalie MacMaster). The album is very interesting and incorporates sounds from all over the world and is definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already.

#1 – Barenaked Ladies feat. Sarah McLachlan – “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings” – (2004)

Why is this song the number one Christmas song? Listen to Sarah McLachlan’s voice. Listen to the ‘bare’ musical accompaniment. Just listen to the song. The Barenaked Ladies are an amazing band to begin with, but when you throw in the incomparable talent of someone like Sarah McLachlan… watch out. This is the only Christmas song (TSO not included) that I blare my radio whenever it comes on – to the point where the speakers scream in pain. There is just something magical about this song.

#2 – Elton John – “Step into Christmas” – (1973)

This song was released as a single in 1973 and then included on the 1974 non-holiday album Caribou. It’s undeniably catchy and it was very successful, but we’ll never be able to truly judge its popularity due to Billboard excluding it from the Hot 100. Successful or not, it remains one of my very favorite Christmas songs – and the only one I can stand to hear year-round… or forever and ever.

#3 – Trans-Siberian Orchestra – “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)” – (1996)

I saw TSO last week and if you’ve never seen them live – do it. It’s an experience. “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)” is a medley of “Carol of the Bells” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” – and it rocks. The song is haunting and the energy within it seems like whatever you’re listening to it on is about to explode. Also from Christmas Eve and Other Stories is “A Mad Russian’s Christmas” – their insane take on the Nutcracker Suite. But they have another big-time song, “Wizards of Winter,” which is on par (or perhaps better) than “Christmas Eve,” but it doesn’t get to be #3 because it hasn’t been around as long – therefore hasn’t sunk into my subconscious as ‘part of Christmas.’ There is not a better Christmas show you can see live. Seriously. See them.

#4 – John Lennon – “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” – (1971)

The second Beatles entry on this list. And yeah, I know the album cover says “John & Yoko & The Plastic Ono Band” but the words “Yoko” or “Ono” don’t register on my list of recognizable words. But I will give credit to the Harlem Community Choir for their very well done backing vocals. John Lennon’s big songs had a tendency to either insult or demand answers to questions (depending on the way you view it), and this is no different, quickly asking “What have you done?” It reminds me a lot of “Instant Karma!” but, well, more Christmas-y. And of course he has to talk about war or something controversial (like his use of “Xmas”).

#5 – Mariah Carey – “All I Want For Christmas Is You” – (1994)

Christmas songs tend to be rooted in tradition. Not so here. This song is extremely catchy which explains why it charted at #6 in 1994, then re-charted in 2000 and again in 2004 – and every year since. But what do you expect from the queen of 1990s chart performance? It has become a classic, and compared to most of the Christmas songs we regularly hear on the radio, it is about as new as they come.

#6 – Paul McCartney & Wings – “A Wonderful Christmas Time” – (1979)

I’ve seen “A Wonderful Christmas Time” listed as a solo song by Paul McCartney – even though it was released on Wings’ 1979 album Back to the Egg – and as a single by Wings: so I listed it as both. I’ve also seen it listed as “Wonderful Christmastime,” but I like the way I’ve listed it better. The futuristic sound of the song is a result of it being played on a weird, old (then modern) synthesizer. That sound is one of the main reasons it is so memorable – that and it never really picks up speed: the song is kind of flatly paced. It’s definitely different – but definitely good.

#7 – The Royal Guardsmen – “Snoopy’s Christmas” – (1967)

“Snoopy’s Christmas” is a novelty rock song about World War I from the late 60s from a band who seemed to only sing about Snoopy (their only other hit was “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron,” and this is a follow-up to that). For some reason I really like the part where they sing “Christmas bells, those Christmas bells.” Other songs related to animated characters: “Frosty the Snowman” by Jimmy Durante (the version from the cartoon) and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry (the first official recording – he also wrote and performed “Here Comes Santa Claus“).

#8 – The Ronettes – “Sleigh Ride” – (1963)

Phil Spector strikes again (and not in any sort if illegal way). This time it was with The Ronettes. There are a lot of versions of “Sleigh Ride” out there but Ronnie Spector’s voice lends itself to this song far exceeding any other I’ve heard. Plus it’s very upbeat and the rest of The Ronettes singing “ring-a-ling-a-ling” in the background almost defines 60s-era girl group greatness.

#9 – Andy Williams – “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” – (1963)

Andy Williams has an awesome voice and this is a “holiday classic.” I don’t know what else needs to be said, except that he had another big hit from The Andy Williams Christmas Album: “Medley: Happy Holidays/The Holiday Season,” whose lyrics are more fun with the almost sarcastic sounding: “It’s the holiday season, so whoop-de-do and dickory-dock.” And another how-could-I-not-mention-it song, the creatively titled “The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You)” by Nat King Cole, a true classic.

#10 – Darlene Love – “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – (1963)

This is the first song on this list from A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. Sure, Phil’s gone off the deep end here lately, but back in the 60s he ruled, thanks in no small part of the amazing vocal talent of people like Darlene Love (who actually sang lead on the Crystal’s number one hit “He’s A Rebel). Darlene Love also participated in one of Saturday Night Live’s better Christmas song spoofs: “Christmastime for the Jews.”

#11 – David Foster – “Carol Of The Bells” – (1995)

This song is proof that instrumental Christmas music has the potential to be almost frightening. David Foster is a songwriter and composer and he did this song to promote yet another all-star Christmas album. Some of the best Christmas music is instrumental, case in point: Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, (composed from 1891-92) most notably the “Russian Dance” (a favorite for use in trailers for family Christmas movies), the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” and the “March.” And, although it has nothing to do with Christmas, I can’t help but associated Karl Jenkin’s “Palladio I, Allegretto” from his 1996 album Diamond Music – why? – because it was used in the DeBeers diamond commercials that played incessantly near Christmastime.

#12 – The Waitresses – “Christmas Wrapping” – (1981)

What a creative title. This song was written like a rap song. The lyrics aren’t necessarily sung, but I wouldn’t call it “rapping,” even it was 1981. This song, like an unusually high number on this list, was released on a mutli-artist compilation album, A Christmas Record.

#13 – Brenda Lee – “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” – (1960)

Yeah, so this was in Home Alone as well. But who doesn’t love the guitar in this song? It’s so singular in nature and every time I hear it I picture a cardboard cut-out of Michael Jordan riding a miniature train set around a window – in silhouette of course. Also featured prominently in Home Alone (which has to be the greatest movie soundtrack as far as Christmas music goes) was “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” I think the version from the movie might have been by Mel Torme, but I prefer the Judy Garland original. And, although I don’t much care for it – even though everyone else seems to – I feel compelled to at least mention the 1953 cult-hit “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” by then 10-year-old Gayla Peevey.

#14 – Bruce Springsteen – “Merry Christmas Baby” – (1989)

A Very Special Christmas was an album put together to benefit the Special Olympics. The Boss’s “Merry Christmas Baby” is tops on the album (barely) – mostly because of the raging saxophone and the belted lyrics. There is a short instrumental intro and then Bruce does a little talking building to it, then at about the 1:07 mark he lets loose the title of the song – which is one of the most rewarding moments in song. Bruce also did quite a famous version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” and don’t forget to check out B.B. King’s bluesy version of “Merry Christmas Baby.” A Very Special Christmas had a string of other hits as well. There was the Eurythmics somewhat irritating version of “Winter Wonderland” and Bob Seger’s okay version of “The Little Drummer Boy.” But I think the real gem of the album is John Mellencamp’s rockin’ version of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” which even if it had different lyrics, it would still be an awesome song. The music just rocks.

#15 – Vince Guaraldi – “Christmastime Is Here” – (1965)

Vince Guaraldi was the official composer for the Peanuts TV specials. The vocal version of “Christmastime is Here” (apparently there is also an instrumental version) is the most Christmas-y. Guaraldi’s version of “O Tannenbaum” evokes memories if little cartoon characters skating around on a frozen pond. Then there is the most famous song, “Linus and Lucy” which is the theme for Peanuts. It’s really not a Christmas song, but it will forever be linked with the holiday due to its use in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

#16 – The Eagles – “Please Come Home For Christmas” – (1994)

You’re gonna have to find the full version of the song online by yourself because, and I’m just guessing here, Don Henley & the boys are complete Nazis when it comes to their music, so this song is not on YouTube. Or you could just watch Home Alone because I’m pretty sure this song was in it (although it may have been sung by someone else). Another good Christmas song from Home Alone: Chuck Berry’s 1958 Christmas-rock classic “Run Rudolph Run” (or the Lynyrd Skynyrd version “Run Run Rudolph“).

#17 – Burl Ives – “A Holly Jolly Christmas” – (1965)

His real name? Burle Icle Ivanhoe Ives, so, he’s definitely awesome. And he will forever be linked with Christmas, because he was the voice of Sam the Snowman in the annual TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – which is where this song is originally from. And, as weird as it is, Sam the Snowman looks exactly like Burl Ives – if he were made of three large snowballs.

#18 – Bobby Helms – “Jingle Bell Rock” – (1957)

Easily the best rockabilly Christmas song. While rock artists (such as The Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, and even Lynyrd Skynyrd) have had success releasing Christmas music, there are very few successful rock-styled Christmas songs. That’s one reason that Bobby Helms’ classic has enjoyed air-play for the last 50 years: it’s unique. Other “jingle bell” related Christmas songs include Frank Sinatra’s excellent 1957 version of “Jingle Bells.” It is, perhaps, the most “50s” styled song I’ve ever heard. It’s so easy to picture Sinatra swaying around on stage with a glass of whiskey in one hand and a microphone in the other.

#19 – Thurl Ravenscroft – “You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch” – (1966)

Thurl Ravenscroft. Yes, he has one of the most awesome names ever. The lyrics to this song are great: “Your soul is an appalling dump heap overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable… mangled up in tangled up knots.” Then again, what has Dr. Seuss written that isn’t perfectly worded?

Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas is fairly classic in and of itself, but it’s songs really stand out – There is “Welcome Christmas,” performed by the whatever the current studio chorus was at the time, although I generally see it credited to Boris Karloff.
I think the link for Welcome Christmas might be to a slightly different than the original version that I’m familiar with, but I can’t tell.

#20 – The Beach Boys – “Little Saint Nick” – (1963 – rest of album in ’64)

The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album is one of the better all-Christmas albums ever released by a pop band. That may seem over-qualified, but it’s true – especially if you consider that two of the bigger hits are originals. The other was “The Man With All The Toys.” Their version of “Frosty The Snowman” is quite excellent as is their circus-like version of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” Note: the videos linked to are all new and very few views, which makes me believe that whoever controls the Beach Boys catalogue is very stringent on the use of their songs – so if you want to hear them, you’d better be quick – they won’t be there for long (if they even still are).

#21 – Kenny Loggins – “Celebrate Me Home” – (1977)

This isn’t technically a Christmas song, but that’s the only time it’s ever played on the radio – which is unfortunate because this song is good. It kind of reminds me of “River” by Joni Micthell, in that it’s pretty much a Christmas song – without being blatantly about Christmas. Loggins’ song is better though.

#22 – Bing Crosby – “White Christmas” – (1942)

One of the standards. I don’t think I really need to describe it much more, although it did hit number on what was then Billboard’s current top chart, the Best Sellers in Stores (now the Hot 100). Among some of the other classics by Bing: “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” (from 1943) and “Happy Holiday” (from 1942). Another number one single was Vaughn Monroe’s “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” (from 1946). From Percy Faith, there was “We Need A Little Christmas,” which was from 1966 (the original Angela Lansbury version is intolerable). And, like Bing, Perry Como also had a string of Christmas song hits (although they weren’t number one): “(There’s No Place Like) Home For The Holidays” and “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas.”

#23 – Kenny G – “Silver Bells” – (1994)

This is one of the best versions of any instrumental Christmas song. The song really evokes the mood of the holidays, but every time I hear it I can’t help but think that it might be Lenny Pickett & the Saturday Nigh Live Band… because this is the type of thing they play… I guess I would say that it has a very “New York feel” to it.

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