A few years ago Paul wrote a post about the worst Christmas songs, and this year he updated it. His post includes my comments as well. But lest you think we don’t like Christmas music, I thought I’d do a companion piece about the BEST Christmas songs (or, more accurately, my favorites.) Around the house I listen almost exclusively to Christmas music during the month of December. I love Christmas music and we have a fairly vast collection, so it’s not like I’m listening to one disc on repeat for 4 weeks.
I’m very fond of pretty much all of the traditional carols-The First Noel, Away in a Manger, Angels We Have Heard on High, etc., so I’m afraid they are not even going to make my list. You can just know that I like them. You may not be familiar with many of the songs below-I encourage you to go have a listen. (and at the risk of being uninteresting visually I’m not putting in the pictures of the album covers.) Maybe you’ll find something new to sing along to. Here they are, in no particular order, my favorite songs to listen to at Christmas time:
“Christmasey” (What I Really Want for Christmas, Brian Wilson)-– This album came out a couple years ago and it quickly became a favorite. He does some traditional songs (including versions of O Holy Night and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen that I love either in spite of, or because, of his very steady rhythmed way of singing them.) Christmasey and What I Really Want for Christmas are both upbeat delightful songs. New classics!
“God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen” (Barenaked for the Holidays, Barenaked Ladies)–This whole album is just awesome. Their version of “God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen” is sung with Sarah McLachlan and the harmonies and melodies are just beautiful and uplifting. The song’s made it in pretty heavy rotation on compilations, in stores, etc., but don’t miss the rest of the album. They’ve got the only excellent Hanukkah song I’ve ever heard (“Hanukkah Blessings”), “The Elf’s Lament” is pretty funny, and you’ll love singing “Deck the Stills”-Deck the Halls sung only with the words “Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.” Oh, and “Do They Know It’s Christmastime?” is sung in such a powerhouse ballad sort of way that you will at once sing along and also realize the utter cultural insensitivity and ludicrousness of that song.
“Masters in the Hall” (The Little Drummer Boy, The Harry Simeone Chorale) –Growing up we listened to two record albums-The Ray Coniff Singers and the Harry Simeone Chorale. Those records have long been lost, but I was thrilled to download this album a couple years ago. I really don’t understand the song or why it’s Christmassy, but having listened to it during all the Christmases of my childhood it is now ingrained in me as a favorite. Also from this album, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” I always liked the structure of the song and the build up to the big finish.
“For Unto Us a Child Is Born” (Messiah, Handel)–I listen to the entire Messiah recording a few times each Christmas season. It fills me with joy, particularly “For Unto Us a Child Is Born”. We sung it in choir in high school so I actually know the whole alto part.
“Jingle Bells” (Merry Xmas, ¡Esquivel!)– When I met Paul he introduced me to many new and wild Christmas songs and made me a compilation of his favorites. This is bizarre (“boing! boing!”) and I love it. By the way, I never knew it was “Jingle Bells” because I refer to it as the “Space Age Bachelor Pad.” The whole song opens with Esquivel narrating your arrival at his space age bachelor pad to a swinging holiday party. Feliz Navidad, baby.
“O Holy Night” ( Maybe This Christmas Too , Avril Levigne)–I think you must have a heart of stone to not be moved by O Holy Night. It’s just a gorgeous song and while there are a million and one versions of it, I’m going to come right out and say that I really like Avril Levigne’s version of it. It’s not particularly flamboyant, very simply sung, and that is the beauty of it. I also like Tracy Chapman’s version on A Very Special Christmas 3.
Merry F**King Christmas (Mr. Hanky’s Christmas Classics)— Prepare to be offended by pretty much every one of these songs. Then prepare to find yourself learning all the words and singing along with them. All the time. It’s not Christmas until Paul and I are alone in the car and listen to this album together. I love musical parody and think Matt Parker and Trey Stone are genius at it. So many songs on this album make you cringe and laugh (“Christmastime in Hell”, “The Most Offensive Song Ever”, “The Lonely Jew on Christmas”, and “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel”), but my absolute favorite is Merry F**King Christmas, in which Mr Garrison sings about going around to the other heathen countries and telling other culture’s to get off their heathen asses because it’s Jesus’s birthday.
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year(A Shrift Remix) (Andy Williams, Christmas Remixed)–Christmas Remixed takes traditional songs and, as the name indicates, remixes them. So it’s definitely Andy Williams singing It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, but all groovy and jingly and funky. All the songs on this album are like that and there are other volumes of Christmas Remixed as well. I think this song is my favorite because of the delicate jingling bells that open it. We used this track as the soundtrack to a Christmas home movie we made one year. Another collection that has a few volumes that I recommend is Christmas Cocktails. It is exactly what you might think–super swinging versions of Christmas music you might listen to when you pretend you are having a swank cocktail party in the 60s.
Baby, It’s Cold Outside (Tom Jones)–Speaking of swinging cocktail parties…many versions of Baby, It’s Cold Outside, but Tom Jones wins hands down for his smooth and easy sexy singing (there’s a reason ladies threw their panties at him!) And, how is this a Christmas song? Poor cold weather songs (“I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”), just getting lumped into the Christmas tunes. Anyway, I know that if Tom was singing this at me I’d certainly stay for another drink!
Two Can Have a Party (Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Holiday Hits)–Another not really Christmassy song, I suppose the party in question is meant to be a New Year’s party? or maybe a Christmas party? Of course, if it only takes two to make a party then maybe no occasion is necessary! This festive tune is on a compilation I got years ago at Old Navy and I just love it and dance around to the kitchen to it whenever it’s on. Perfect cookie baking song.
O Come O Come Emmanuel (Ding! Dong!,Sufjan Stevens–If you’re not familiar with Sufjan Stevens he does all these mellow acousticy songs and he came out with a little album every year (some story here-recorded in his basement? made for his friends? I forget the details-we have the little boxed set that includes them all.) I remember that we always sang this the first Sunday in Advent and I just think it’s a very peaceful beautiful song. This is a lovely version and you really don’t hear it much outside of church.
Gift of the Magi (Christmas Caravan, Squirrel Nut Zippers)–Do people still read O. Henry’s classic short story The Gift of the Magi? Well, here the story is captured in a twangy song that goes back and forth between the man’s and woman’s voices. It’s charming and unusual. This whole album is quite zippy and fun, actually.
Silver Bells (Time Life Treasury of Christmas, Earl Grant)–yeah, that’s right. I have the two disc Time Life Treasury. It’s really the best for all the most traditional Christmas tunes-you know, the stuff you hear while you’re shopping (“as the shoppers rush home with their treasures.”) I like other versions of this song, too, but this is the standard for me.
Cha-Cha All the Way ( Capitol Studio Orchestra, Holiday Hits )–I love this song about cha-cha-ing and South America. Somehow it’s right at home in a festive Christmas party.
Alan Parsons in a Winter Wonderland(Grandaddy, don’t know the album)–Yes, it’s totally weird that they’ve taken Winter Wonderland and made it into not only a super mellow dreamy tune, but also one in which they sing about Alan Parsons. Why Alan Parsons? I do not know.
Sleigh Ride-aw heck, any version! The latest one I’m enjoying is off of an early Christmas present from Paul-A Very She & Him Christmas. She & Him are the singing duo of Zooey Deschanel and a guy who sadly I can’t be bothered to remember his name. I’ve enjoyed Zooey Deschanel’s voice since she sang Baby It’s Cold Outside in Elf and this album does not disappoint. Check out how many of my favorites are on it: Sleigh Ride, Rockin Around the Christmas Tree, Silver Bells, Baby It’s Cold Outside, and a lovely rendition of The Christmas Waltz (a song I was not too familiar with.)
Crank up the tunes this week and have a Merry Christmas! And what’s your favorite Christmas song?
*An Update: Paul just posted his Favorite Christmas songs post from 2008 with a few new updates. It includes my comments from three years ago and I’d have to say that they read an awful lot like my comments in here! Read mine and his and you can pretty much tell what Christmas in our house sounds like.