Top Ten Not-To-Be-Missed Christmas Shows

There are plenty of Christmas television specials and movies out there; how do you decide which ones to watch? Well, here are the ones I stay home for:

10. Elf – One of the few Will Ferrell movies I can sit all the way through. It’s cute, it’s funny, and Bob Newhart plays Papa Elf. Fortunately, I don’t have to make time for this movie, because it’s on sixteen separate cable channels every day during the month of December.

9. Scrooged – I detest remakes of A Christmas Carol that repeat what’s already been done better. I’m fine with versions that update the story or take it places where it hasn’t been. In this version, Bill Murray is a cynical, vicious television executive who gets the Dickens scared out of him by an excellent supporting cast, which includes John Forsythe and David Johansen (below with Murray).

8. It’s A Wonderful Life – The 1946 Frank Capra classic. Yes, it’s a sappy story, but it reminds us of all the good we can do, and maybe already are doing, for the people around us every day. At this point it’s passed from being a film to being a Christmas tradition, which makes it immune to cinematic criticism.

7. Saturday Night Live Christmas – SNL has done a lot of really funny stuff over lo these many Christmases – none funnier than Steve Martin’s Christmas Wish.

6. A Christmas Story – I’ve never seen a film become iconic quite as quickly as did the story of Ralphie’s quest for the elusive Red Ryder Ranger Model Air Rifle. A huge bonus is the acting of Darren McGavin, who also played Carl Kolchak in the Night Stalker series. If you like this movie, you can see it for 24 hours straight on TBS.

5. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – Debuting Christmas 1964, this is the claymation classic that started it all. As much as I enjoy Rudolph, every year Santa seems to become more and more of an insensitive jerk. If this were remade today, Rudolph wouldn’t run away, he’d sue Santa under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

4. Frosty the Snowman – A little song becomes an indelible part of our lives with the help of great voiceover performances from Jackie Vernon (Frosty), Billy De Wolfe (Professor Hinkle) and Jimmy Durante.

3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! – Dr. Suess’ Christmas staple first appeared in December of 1966, complete with narration by Boris Karloff and singing by Thurl Ravenscroft, who was also the voice of Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger. Directed by Chuck Jones, of Tom and Jerry fame.

2. Scrooge (1951) – The definitive version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a brilliant cast headed by Alastair Sim set the bar so high that all other Scrooge films seem like disasters by comparison. The original was in black and white, but the colorized version really brings out the feel of London in the early 19th century. Another bonus is how close this version stays to Dickens’ text.

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas – For me, Christmas is in full swing when I hear Linus say, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” Released in 1965, when people weren’t afraid to quote the Gospel of Luke and some actually had aluminum Christmas trees illuminated by rotating color wheels, the message is about rejecting the commercialization of Christmas. If Rudolph created claymation holiday specials, Charlie Brown did the same for animation. [Irony Central: Let me say here how disappointed I am with ABC for cutting a full five minutes from A Charlie Brown Christmas last night so that they could squeeze in more commercials. Being the network that gets to broadcast “ACBC” is a sacred trust, which ABC violated for the sake of commercialism. Shame on you, ABC.]

Honorable Mentions:

The Year Without a Santa Claus

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

The Little Drummer Boy

Miracle on 34th Street

Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town

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My Top 20 Christmas Songs

Christmastime is here, and in honor of the season, I’m going to do a few Christmas lists. The first one out of the gate are my twenty favorite Christmas songs:

1. I Believe in Father Christmas – Greg Lake. From Christmas 1975 – Lush, gorgeous music paired with a biting, cynical message (“Hallelujah, Noel, be it heaven or hell; The Christmas you get you deserve.”) Not exactly uplifting, but awesome nonetheless.

2. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John & Yoko. A sentimental favorite. I’m a huge Beatles/Lennon fan, and this is typical John, reminding everyone that there’s much to be done.

3. You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch – Thurle Ravenscroft. If there’s a recurrent theme in this list, it’s that we carry our childhood around with us forever. I love How The Grinch Stole Christmas (the original animated version, not that sin against nature that Jim Carrey foisted upon us), and I’ve even memorized most of the Suess script. BTW, did you know the guy who sang this was the voice of Tony the Tiger, the Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes spokescharacter? Heeee’s Great!

4. Frosty the SnowmanJimmy Durante. Another throwback to my youth. This version is from the animated classic, which so impressed me in my youth that I eventually went out and got myself my own cute blonde girl and married her. How’s that for influence?

Karen

Laurie

5. 2000 Miles – The Pretenders. I’m a big fan of Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders, and I love her contribution to the Christmas season.

6. Wonderful Christmastime – Paul McCartney. My Beatles thing influencing me again. Bouncy, upbeat, hopelessly optimistic. In short, perfectly Paul.

7. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Barenaked Ladies & Sarah McLachlan. This is a really great folksy mashup  of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and We Three Kings. I wish it was played more often on the radio.

8. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow – Dean Martin. The definitive version by the always smooth, slightly intoxicated Dino.

9. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Judy Garland. This is a sad song anyway, but when Judy sings it, it’s got a tragic, almost heartbreaking feel about it. If you’re a potential holiday suicide candidate, stay away from this one.

10. Sleigh Ride – Leroy Anderson. The original version, and for me the signature tune of the Christmas season.

11. Holly Jolly Christmas – Burl Ives. Another childhood memory, this time from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Whenever I hear this song, I don’t think of Burl Ives, I think of Sam the Snowman.

12. Christmastime Is Here – Vince Guaraldi Trio. From the opening scene of A Charlie Brown Christmas, where the Peanuts gang is skating. Whenever I hear this song, in my mind I also hear the sound effects from the cartoon. Weird.

13. The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole. The definitive version from the definitive voice. Classy, smart and timeless.

14. Do You Hear What I Hear? – Bobby Vinton. When my mom tucked me in every Christmas Eve, she let the small radio play next to my bed so that I could listen to the news bulletins tracking Santa’s movements across the globe (I always dozed off when he was up around Newfoundland). For some reason, this version of this song was always on that station, and thus became welded to my childhood Christmas memories.

15. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – Bruce Springsteen. Proof that you can be cool and rock Santa Claus. I wonder: Did Clarence ever get that new saxophone? Good stuff.

17. The Little Drummer Boy – Harry Simeone Chorale. Another memory from the radio next to my bed on Christmas Eve.

18. Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee. It was only very recently that I actually saw a picture of Brenda Lee for the first time. I had always imagined her looking like Sandra Dee. You cannot imagine my disappointment.

Sandra Dee

    

Brenda Lee

18. White Christmas – Bing Crosby. Bing’s original rendition is ancient and perfect.

19. O Holy Night – Mario Lanza. A voice from the heavens, crazy powerful and booming, almost compelling you to “fall on your knees” and ‘hear the angel voices.” Perhaps the greatest vocal performance of all Christmas songs.

20. Silver Bells – Elvis Presley. The King, doing his Christmas thing. A bit bluesy, all Elvis. Thank you, thank you very much.

21. Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. Steve and Eydie did a few Christmas songs that I like, and I inadvertently left them off the list, until reminded by the intrepid Melissa Smith. Curiously, though, I can’t think of Steve & Eydie without being reminded of the Sinatra Group, an SNL skit that was a send up of the McLaughlin Group. Mike Myers and Victoria Jackson do a great job, with the late, great Phil Hartman as ol’ Blue Eyes.

Have a swinging Claus-Day, Jack.