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.
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 Snowman – Jimmy 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?
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.
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.
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.