December 2011

Kenny G – “Auld Lang Syne (Millennium Mix)” – (1999)

Why is Kenny G always barefoot on his album covers? Put some shoes on, it’s weird. Bizarrely, this album charted in the top five on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. This version of the song was a top ten hit in the U.S. at the end of 1999. It features sound clips – a walk through the history of the 20th century. It made everybody nostalgic, and since everyone thought the world was about to end, I guess that was a good thing. The song is less about Kenny G, really, and more about the sound clips which are pretty interesting. It’s like a first-hand version of “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Plus, “Auld Lang Syne” is the New Year’s song for whatever reason (it’s got something to do with Scotland).

U2 – “New Year’s Day” – (1983)

I was trying to come up with songs about the New Year and, well, this one had the holiday’s name in its title so I figured it would work. War was U2’s third album and, in all honesty, the first one with any songs of note (I almost said, “The first one that mattered” but didn’t want to be attacked by Bono and called a simpleton for “not understanding” their early work). Anyway, this was the lead single and it brought the band commercial success. Of course, the lyrics have to be about a plight somewhere in this world (in this case, Poland). The bassline is pretty groovy and it works well as a rock song – not so much as a New Year’s song, other than the title.

Vince Guaraldi – “Linus and Lucy” – (1964)

This isn’t technically a Christmas song but the only airplay it gets is every year around Christmastime. It’s famous for this because it appeared in the television special, A Charlie Brown Christmas and also on that soundtrack, in 1965. It’s a well-known piece of music and every time I hear it I picture Schroeder sitting at a mini-piano playing it while all the Peanuts characters dance around him. Some people think that this is the “Peanuts theme” but that’s not really true either, even though it did appear in most of the TV specials. Technically or not, in my mind, this is the song when it comes to Peanuts.

John Mellencamp – “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” – (1987)

This is easily the best version of this song. Mellencamp really takes a 1950s Christmas standard (kinda) and rocks it. This was another radio-friendly Christmas hit from the first charity album A Very Special Christmas (there are a series of them) that benefitted the Special Olympics. The other big hit from this was Bruce Springsteen’s “Merry Christmas Baby.”

This song has a very country-rock feel to it. It’s like a hillbilly orchestra going on in the background. Someone is clearly playing the cow-bell and I’m pretty sure that’s a banjo… in a Christmas song? Very cool.

Judy Garland – “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – (1944)

It seems like there were a bunch of great, classic Christmas songs recorded in the 1940s – and there were. This song originally appeared in the film Meet Me in St. Louis, sung by Judy Garland. Frank Sinatra did another popular version later on. Mel Torme’s version appeared in Home Alone and is also very popular. Just another one of those 20th Century Christmas tunes.

Nat King Cole Trio – “The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You)” – (1946)

I have the sneaking suspicion that the video I linked to above is seasonal… but maybe not. Maybe Nat King Cole didn’t get a YouTube account until August of 2011. Who knows. This is one of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time. The title isn’t terribly original but the song itself is pure class. Most people refer to it by its opening line “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” It’s been covered by just about everyone – Cole recorded it first, although it was written by Mel Torme, who later recorded it himself. According to BMI, this is the most performed Christmas song. Not hard to see why.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – “Wizards in Winter” – (2004)

This is a rockin’ Christmas song by the people who know how to rock Christmas better than anyone else. It was released toward the end of 2004, but in 2005 it took on a life of its own. A guy in Ohio put up 16,000 Christmas lights in his yard and synchronized them to this song. Then he broadcast the song on a low-frequency radio from his house so anyone driving by could listen to it and watch the show. It caught on online and was eventually used in a Miller commercial. In fact, the “Official” video for this song (from Atlantic Records) is the video of that guy’s house. TSO really grabbed some new fans because of it.

Adam Sandler – “The Chanukah Song” – (1994)

Yeah, Chanukah is a Jewish holiday but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a great Christmas song. There have been sequels (we’ll get to them individually) but this is the original and the best. “Guess who eats together at the Carnegie Deli, Bowser from Sha-Na-Na and Arthur Fonzarelli.” That’s a lyric. When played on the radio the words “marijuana-icah” is often removed for whatever stupid reason. “O.J. Simpsons: not a Jew.” Not sure when Chanukah starts, but Happy Chanukah anyway!

Vince Vance & the Valiants – “All I Want for Christmas is You” – (1989)

A country Christmas song by what can more or less be described as a “novelty band.” It’s a popular song on the radio this time each year and it’s the only song to hit the charts by Vince Vance & the Valiants. I’ve heard people say that they’re disappointed because there aren’t any “modern, original” Christmas songs. But they’re thinking in terms of carols, because this is a modern, original Christmas song and it’s very, very good. The video is weird, but the song is good and you’ve no doubt heard it a hundred times.

Perry Como & the Fontaine Sisters with Mitchell Ayers & his Orchestra – “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” – (1951)

So far, I think that’s the longest artist/song title combo we’ve yet had on this site. I hate leaving out orchestras and their conductors, so I included it there. Memorize it, there’ll be a quiz later. This is the best version of this Christmas classic – he and Bing Crosby both recorded it in 1951, but Como’s was more popular initially and with Bing having done every other popular Christmas song up to that point, why not let someone else have a win. Have I already called it a classic?

Andy Williams – “Medley: Happy Holidays/The Holiday Season” – (1963)

This is a classic 1960s Christmas song. There are the back-up singers just highlighting random things. “He’ll be coming down the chimney, down.” And Andy is at his best: “So hoop-dee-doo and dickory-dock.” “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” gets all the love but I’ve noticed this song getting more and more airplay every year. I heard recently that Andy Williams announced that he has cancer, which sucks because he’s got a great voice and he’s a classic entertainer. Like just a solid guy – you look at his Wikipedia article and you don’t see a section called “Controversy” or anything like that. This is among his best work.

The Beach Boys – “The Man with All the Toys” – (1964)

Gotta love the harmonies here. “He’s the man – bop – with all – bop – the toys – bop.” Or at least I think they’re saying “bop,” I don’t really know. Since its St. Nick’s Day I thought I’d go with “Little Saint Nick” from the same Beach Boys Christmas Album but that song was already posted in our Christmas countdown. This is a nice little, original, song from the Beach Boys and one people seem to like.

Pitbull feat. Marc Anthony – “Rain Over Me” – (2011)

Marc Anthony hasn’t done a lot of business on mainstream U.S. radio since, umm, about 2000. Nowadays he’s more famous for having married Jennifer Lopez, but he kills it in this song. Pitbull has been about everywhere since about 2010 and as time has progressed, I’ve noticed that when he starts rapping (or whatever) in Spanish, it seems to be more and more “phoned it” every time. He just kind of mumbles. I’m jealous he’s making a career out of mumbling (“ya tu sabe”). This video is classic Pitbull: a white suit, hand motions with fingers spread, reflective sunglasses, the sun, beautiful women, and him – at some point – throwing his arms in the air and spinning as the beat drops. But Marc Anthony really makes this song – he’s still got the pipes he did 10 years ago and it really helps make this dance track more pop-y.