Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Songs

Now that the Nutcracker has wound down, and playoff football is in full swing, it's time to revisit my favorite and least favorite Christmas songs. I grew up with some of the most gawdawful Christmas albums my mom could find. But it opened my eyes (ears) to a wide variety of Christmas songs. Some great, lots not so great.

The greatest of the bad...a three LP set, and I couldn't even tell you who recorded it. No one anyone would know, I'm sure. But I vividly remember all three LPs. The first one was nothing but organ. Not a big cathedral pipe organ; not a cheesy theater organ; not even a Hammond B-3. This sounded similar to some bad organ in the corner of a small church that was donated by a family some 50 years earlier, and has been played by the same little old lady for every Sunday service, wedding and funeral. goes through all the classic carols. The second LP had a chorus joining in. Not a church chorus, but one of those choruses that was big in the 50s, like the Norman Luboff Choir or Ray Conniff Singers. But not. With the same organ accompaniment, but with different songs. The third LP is what made the collection truly memorable. The same organ and organist, with almost the same arrangements as the first LP, but with the addition of chimes. A nice idea for one song, but not an entire LP.

The collection has to be at least 45 years old by now, and yes, I still have it. It is so gloriously bad, I could never throw it out. It's in storage with the rest of my hundreds of records, but I think I might try to dig it out and see if it's really as bad as I remember. I'm sure it is.

So now, I'm reposting my favorite and least favorite Christmas songs. If you want mp3s of any of these, I'll be more than happy to send them! I'll start with my least liked, and then my favorites:
    Least Favorite Christmas Songs:

  • 10.- Any Christmas song recorded by Michael Bolton - Well, that should probably read any song recorded by Michael Bolton.
  • 9. - Any Christmas song recorded by Mariah or Britney or BoyzIIMen or 'N Sync or Hillary or Christina, ad nauseum.... - Actually, Christina's Christmas album wasn't too bad.
  • 8. - "This Christmas" by anyone... - This song really wants to be this generation's "signature" Christmas song. Somebody needs to tell singers that it's not going to be this Christmas, next Christmas, or any Christmas in the foreseeable future.
  • 7. - Any Christmas song recorded in a "country" style - This does not necessarily mean I don't like Christmas songs recorded by country artists. But the country-fying of most songs just drives me up a wall.
  • 6. - "Wonderful Christmastime" by Paul McCartney - Yeah, he was the "cute" Beatle. Yeah, he's written some of the best, most recognizable music of the 20th century. Yeah, everyone has an "off" day some days. Why can't we recognize that and just attribute this song to that, and scrub it? The world's greatest composers were smart enough to recognize a stinker and would toss their poor efforts into the fire.
  • 5. - "Merry Christmas, Darling" by the Carpenters - Don't get me wrong. I loved the Carpenters. The very first concert I ever went to was the Carpenters. In the midst of my hormone-ravaged junior high years. But this one is SO overplayed... And it's one of "those" songs that's rarely recorded by others, simply because it was so well done the first time. But once an hour???
  • 4. - "Last Christmas" by Wham! - The first words of this song are the ONLY references to Christmas in this song. It's about a failed relationship. Why does everyone want to record it??
  • 3. - "Because It's Christmas" by Barry Manilow - Because it's Christmas, I'll be gentle... What an overproduced piece of crap! I don't know exactly when this was recorded, but it sounds like an afterthought from the recording session for "I Write The Song". And some of the sheet music from that was left on the musicians music stands. They're like fraternal twins. So much alike, but different. Despite the fact that I consider Barry Manilow an overattacked, but brilliant musician/entertainer, this should never have been released.
  • 2. - "White Christmas" by anyone other than Bing Crosby - There are certain songs that should never, ever be recorded ever again, because the first one was perfect. This is one of them.
  • 1. - "Any Christmas song recorded by Celine Dion - Nothing more needs be said...

    10 Favorite Christmas Songs: (but I'm doing 20--it's my list...)

  • 20.- "Silver Bells" - The Bob Hope version. From the movie "The Lemon Drop Kid". As usual, the original version is the best, and that's no different here.
  • 19.- "Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy" - Whoever came up with the pairing of David Bowie (in his prime) and Bing Crosby (just being der Bingle) has a special place in Heaven waiting for him. Yes, it's overplayed, but when the video hit the screens, you could hear a pin drop, regardless of where you were watching it. I miss Bing...
  • 18.- "Shimmy Down the Chimney" - This was recorded for a country Christmas compilation album a couple of years ago by Alison Krauss. It's a rare instance of her performing a style other than her brand of bluegrass (though she's sung background vocals on a number of rock-type albums). This song is a feel-good, pop-style, horn-infused, waitin'-for-Santa, love song. If you like Alison, you'll love this. If you don't, you still need to find it and listen to it!
  • 17.- "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" - The Russ Freeman (the "Rippingtons") version. I generally don't like this song, but it's harmonic structure lends itself to some great arrangements. This one is sort of a Calypso/salsa/something uptempo thing.
  • 16.- "And the glory of the Lord" - This is one of the movements from Handel's Messiah. A much better song than the "Hallelujah" chorus. I've never heard a bad recording of this song, even among the bad recordings of Messiah.
  • 15.- "Winter Wonderland" - Finally! A song that can be successfully recorded by just about anyone and still sound pretty good! And it has been... My personal favorite versions are one by Deana Carter and another one recorded by the Hollywood Trombones (see more descriptions of their albums in a future list). There's not many ways to screw this one up!
  • 14.- "Silent Night" - I really like the Mannheim Steamroller version of this, though the entire concept has been overplayed (same with Trans-Siberian Orchestra). Again, this song is ripe with different versions just waiting to be written.
  • 13.- "It Happened In Sun Valley" - From the movie "Sun Valley Serenade" starring Sonja Henie, John Payne, Milton Berle and the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Not really a Christmas song, but deal with it. The version I REALLY like is by those South Park kids Stan and Wendy on "Mr. Hanky's Christmas Classics". Truly, it's very good. Except for the pukey parts...
  • 12.- "The Christmas Song" - This one's sort of on the fence, because everyone thinks they can record it. You really have to know what you're doing though... My favorite versions--Mel Tormé (the composer) does it in a way that's indescribable and in his signature style. Nat King Cole recorded the "definitive" version of it (many times, actually), though it's WAY overplayed. Chuck Brown and Eva Cassidy did a nice version. Christina Aguilera's version is the only one besides Cole's that made it to the Top 40 charts.
  • 11.- "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" - This song lends itself well to a large group style of performance. Which is why it just doesn't sound good when Sinatra records it. Or any other solo artist. When done with full choir and orchestra, it's rarely less than glorious. From a musician's standpoint, this is a great piece to play, too!
  • 10.- "O Holy Night" - To do this song correctly, you REALLY need to be good! Better done by large groups, but there's some good solo performances of it. And some incredibly BAD ones. Spectacularly demonstrated by Cartman on "Mr. Hanky's Christmas Classics". It's a favorite of mine because I specifically remember when I heard it for the first time. December, 1962 (shaddup) at Central School's (which looks EXACTLY like the one in "A Christmas Story") Christmas Concert, held in the 7th Avenue Gym (across the playground). I was a first grader, and I heard the 6th graders sing this song. I had never heard it before. I was blown away. For as much as a 5 year old boy can be blown away. I have always loved this song since that day!
  • 9. - "Jing-a-ling" - I have a recording of this song, but it's some thrown-together studio group. But the song kicks ass! It's done in a style alá the Andrews Sisters. Jazzy, up-tempo, and fun! I'd love to hear the original!
  • 8. - "All I Want For Christmas Is You" - Not the Mariah Carey waste of breath. This is the one hit recorded by Vince Vance and the Valiants. It is sung by a female lead in a late 50s triplet ballad style, with passion just oozing from the speakers. And a rough, raw tenor sax solo (like any good 50s song) in the middle. Again, one of those songs that was done so perfectly the first time that it's rarely covered by anyone else.
  • 7. - "Baby, It's Cold Outside" - I LOVE this song! Technically not a Christmas song, but usually associated with the season. The entire contrapuntal dialog between the woman and the man is a conversation that everyone of us has uttered at sometime in our lives. Trying to get the lady to spend the night! Her with the reasons why she can't. Him with the reasons why she should. And all the subtle (or not-so-subtle) undertones of other types of conversations! There's been alterations to the lyrics over the years, and pairings between some truly interesting duets! It appeared in the movie "Elf", sung by Zooey Deschanel and Leon Redbone. The current version of Natalie Cole and James Taylor is pretty damned good.
  • 6. - "Sleigh Ride" - One that anyone can do. Personally, I consider the original orchestral piece written by Leroy Anderson as the best (written for the Boston Pops--they seem to play it the best, even to this day!). Of course, there's the Motown version by the Ronettes, which is a classic in its own right. And one that's performed by bass guitar virtuoso Stu Hamm with some tasty B-3 in the background. Most recently, SHeDAISY recorded an altered version of it that I like best.
  • 5. - "Let It Snow" - Lots of versions, but the one I like the best is one by Gloria Estefan. Not much of the Miami Sound Machine, but it's a great treatment of the song!
  • 4. - "I Believe In Father Christmas" - Recorded years ago by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, it's beginning to find it's niche in the Christmas season. Being a child of the 70s, and the prog-rock movement of the day, ELP were gods to me, so I automatically liked this song. It's actually been recorded by other bands recently, lending credence to the idea that this is a pretty good song.
  • 3. - "Carol of the Bells" - Another standard Christmas song that mesmerized me in my youth. Another one that lends itself well to variety. It's the cross rhythms of the 2 against 3, in case you're really wondering. My current favorite versions--Mr. Mackey's version on "Mr. Hanky's Christmas Classics" (how can such a vile album be so good??), and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's version as the basis for "Christmas Eve Sarajevo 12/24".
  • 2. - "White Christmas" - Only sung by Bing Crosby. Originally sung by Bing in the movie "Holiday Inn" (1942), it was again heard as the title song in 1954's "White Christmas". No one should ever attempt to record this song again. It can't be done any better. (It was brought to my attention last year by Ms. I that the Drifter's version is pretty darned good too. Touché.)
  • 1. - "Jingle Bells" - And it's not even Christmas specific! But it's my #1. So many great versions that I'm going to do a separate list of the top ten best recordings of it!
There you go--hope you found it as interesting as I tell myself it is!


Ms. Inconspicuous said...

(It was brought to my attention last year by Ms. I that the Drifter's version is pretty darned good too. Touché.)

Ha! Yes. So there. :P

I also petition for the inclusion of Bob Dylan's version of "Must Be Santa"--if only because the video is so darned fun.

Cheeky Minx said...

What's this? Nothing from Ella Fitzgerald? Not one of her versions?! And here I was planning to wrap myself in a bow so you coud find me under your tree. Oh well... ;P

(Thanks for the Wham mention. It's now firmly lodged in my head!)

Saucy Wildcat said...

One day I hope I get to actually experience a white Christmas. Until then, I'd just as soon never hear the song again. Ever. Sorry.

Other than that, I couldn't agree more with your list. Awesome! <3

Infidelity Chronicles said...

OMG 19 and 20 are my very faves. I love the David Bowie/Bing Crosby version...pure genius!

John and Ann said...

I read recently that the White Christmas' original recordings were used so many times that Crosby had to re-record the song in the late 1940s so it could continued to be used.

John and Ann said...

"Back Door Santa" is fun too!

viemoira said...

I always enjoy your lists that point me to songs I had not thought of for some time. :)