Wednesday, December 12, 2012

It's Not Really Christmas Until I Hear...

Last week, I gave you a post about what you may need to SEE before Christmas really hits home. Now we can talk about what is, to my mind, even more important viscerally - the music.

We all have our favorite - and least favorite - holiday songs, and I'll list a few of mine in a minute, but I also want to know if you see the hierarchy of Christmas music in the same way that I do. I'll explain.

The way I see it, all tunes fall into one of three categories:

1 - Carols

2- Traditional, But Non-Religious

3 - Pop

The distinction, for me, is that the first category contains those mainly concerned with The Deity as subject matter; the second category is comprised of very traditional tunes about the holiday Christmas, but not specifically about Christ or other religious personages; and the third contains those about Santa, snowmen, skiing, getting drunk, eating, exchanging presents, snuggling up with a loved one in front of a cozy fire, and other "secular" pursuits.

Within those categories, I've always felt there was a "King" of each, then a few that may be just a small step below in popularity. To explain further, perhaps unnecessarily: If asked for one song in each category, the choices below would immediately spring to mind. These are just the songs that I feel hold these spots, not necessarily my favorite songs. Your mileage may vary wildly. If so, please sound off in the comments. Say something like, "Jim, you're insane! The most popular pop song is easily such-and-such!"


The King - Silent Night.

Contenders for the crown - O Holy Night; Joy To The World.


The King - Jingle Bells.

Contenders - Deck The Halls; We Wish You A Merry Christmas.


The King - The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire).

Contenders - White Christmas (which was positively the champ at one time, but I think "Chestnuts" has surpassed it now); Jingle Bell Rock; Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.

Again, just my perception. Does yours differ?

If we're talking about my personal favorites, I'd go with O Holy Night for a carol, maybe God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen for a traditional (although, really, that one could come under "carol", I suppose - so sue me), and Silver Bells for a pop song.

O Holy Night, when sung by a talented vocalist with the necessary range, always sends a shiver up my shine. If you haven't yet heard them, I would particularly recommend two versions: Andy Williams and, most especially, Mariah Carey. I was never a great fan of hers until last year when, for the first time, I heard her rendition of this carol. Absolutely stunning (although the arrangement, and audience response, may leave traditionalists with something to desire. Magnificent pipes, though.)


I would also give a nod to the instrumental version by The Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

I have a soft spot for God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen because it was the first Christmas song I ever taught myself on the bass (I used to toss it into the middle of any bass solo I did in December concerts.) I've always liked it, in any case. If I had to truly fit my own categorical divisions and choose one with no mention of God whatsoever, I'd go with the "sleighride" segment of Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kiji Suite. That was the second wintry theme I ever taught myself on bass (and I threw it into this silly tune, about 2:25 in.)

Silver Bells is my favorite Christmas song, period. The lyric really spoke to me as a child when I spent lots of time in downtown Boston.

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks
Dressed in holiday style.
In the air there's a feeling of Christmas.
Children laughing, People passing
Meeting smile after smile
And on every street corner you'll hear

Silver BelIs, Silver BeIls
It's Christmas time in the city.
Ring-a-ling, hear them sing.
Soon it will be Christmas day.

Strings of street lights, even stop lights
Blink a bright red and green
As the shoppers rush home with their treasures.
Hear the snow crunch, see the kids bunch.
This is Santa's big scene.
And above all this bustle you'll hear

Silver BelIs, Silver BeIls
It's Christmas time in the city.
Ring-a-ling, hear them sing.
Soon it will be Christmas day.

(There is actually a verse preceding the "City sidewalks, busy sidewalks..." bit. Most singers choose to ignore it, for whatever reason, but it IS part of the song and I much prefer those versions which include it.)

Christmas makes you feel emotional
It may bring parties or thoughts devotional
Whatever happens or what may be,
Here is what Christmas time means to me...

(Trivia: The song comes from the film The Lemon Drop Kid and was sung by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell. The first commercial recording of it came the following year, by Bing Crosby.)

(Useless aside: I have no idea why the font has changed, and I also have no idea how to get it to be what I want it to look like. Oh, well. It's almost Christmas!)

Now let's talk about LEAST favorite tunes.

I can listen to just about any Christmas song once and get a kick out of it. In order to be included in this category, a song has to so annoy me that I don't even want to hear it once during the entire Christmas season.

Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer

I absolutely abhor that tune. I'm trying to stay in the spirit of the season and not tell you what sort of eternal punishment I would gladly see inflicted upon the author.

Bruce Springsteen's Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

Just that version of the song. Something about it crosses my eyes and grinds my teeth. Other versions are just fine.

MY WIFE's Choice - Dominick The Christmas Donkey

I realize some folks absolutely adore this song. I'm not overjoyed to hear this one come on the radio, but I don't get apoplectic. MY WIFE, on the other hand, will claw her way over anyone in her path to get to the dial and change the station.

I could keep going, but I suppose I've filled enough space for today. What are your favorite - and least favorite - Christmas or holiday songs?


Sueann said...

TransSiberian is definitely my fav...and Silver Bells

messymimi said...

Love the ones you mention, and any carol or song by Nat King Cole. Fabulous stuff.

Also, though, i hold a special place in my heart for a few you probably have never heard, like "Boudreaux Got Run Over By A Mudboat" (he survives, by the way, and doesn't duck hunt on Christmas Eve any more), and "Walking in the Woods With My Parrain," a boy taking a Christmas Eve walk in the swamp with his godfather.

Jenn Flynn-Shon said...

"All I Want for Christmas is You" would be near the top of the recognizable pop chart. "White Christmas" was at the top of my list for a long time but now my all time favorite song is "Mele Kalikimaka". There's just something about it that's so fun and upbeat. It makes me smile at this time of year. Living in Phoenix now it has more meaning but I think it kept me warm back in Boston. Even if it was only in my head. And speaking of in my head...this year I'm feeling particularly drawn to "I'll Be Home for Christmas". Missing Boston right now something terrible. Quick! Tell me about a snow storm or your temperatures back east so I can get over it!

Suldog said...

Jenn - It's about 35 degrees outside. I have a space heater on in my office all day. Tonight, I'm attending a function on Beacon Hill. I'll be walking from a parking garage near Government Center, up the hill, against cold wind, and I expect my 'nads will try to tuck themselves into my body cavity in an attempt to not freeze off (which may not be something you would fear, but it means a lot to me.)

Does that help? :-)

Chris said...

If you haven't heard Twisted Sister's "Twisted Christmas," it's really quite interesting. And I'm not making that up, it really does exist.

Anyway, my Top Ten:

The Christmas Song
Christmastime is Here
Winter Wonderland
Silver Bells
O Tannenbaum
Jingle Bell Rock
White Christmas
I'm Mister Heat/Snow Miser (obscure and non-traditional, but awesome nonetheless)
Let it Snow
Sleigh Ride

Anonymous said...

One of my favorites is "What Child is This" - gives me chills when I hear it! I also love "The First Noel" because (like you with your bass) I could pick it out on the piano. And I have to admit I love Bruce's version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"!!

Buck said...

My fave is "Angels We Have Heard On High." "I'll Be Home For Christmas" is right up there, too.

And, apropos o' nuthin', EVERYTHING by Springsteen makes me wanna break something, anything. I detest that prat.

Brighton Pensioner said...

Jim, have you heard the choir of Kings College singing O Holy Night? You can find them here:

Craig said...

I'm all about the carols. Your top three are all high on my list, too. Also, 'O Come All Ye Faithful' (or its Latin incarnation, 'Adeste Fideles'), Angels We Have Heard On High', 'What Child Is This?'. I have sung in various choirs over the course of my young life, and I love the bass part (that's the bass vocal part, altho you could play it on your bass, too) to 'God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen'. Also, those wonderful modal harmonies in the 'Coventry Carol'. . .

I do like 'O Holy Night', a LOT, but most of the recordings of it are just a little bit too 'Breadway Big' for my taste; de gustibus, I guess. . .

The 'Traditional non-carols', and the 'pop' tunes mostly just seem to miss the point, however evocative of home and hearth they might be. But I know I'm weird that way. . .

Even when I was a kid, 'Santa Claus Is Coming to Town' struck me as sorta stalker/creepy - "He sees you when you're sleeping". . . which could evoke all sorts of anxieties as to what I might or might not have been doing in bed when I was twelve, but. . . Dude, get the hell outta my bedroom! Altho - is it the Jackson Five? - there's a pop version of SCICTT that's a lot of fun. . .

stephen Hayes said...

I enjoy most of the traditional music but it isn't really Christmas until I've heard Handel's Messiah. For some reason this piece of music strips away all the commercialism of the season and gets to the heart of what it's all about.

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip said...

Jingle Bells!!!
Because it... and White Christmas... remind me of being a kid (a really young kid) again.

Craig said...

I recall somebody doing a 'Christmas' spoof of 'Iron Man', called 'I Am Santa Claus', in an Elmer Fudd voice.


Now if that doesn't just scream, So Bad It's Good, I don't know what does. . .

Also, and it pains me to say it, 'cuz you know how I love Sir Paul, but 'Wonderful Christmastime' is simply dreadful. . .

Craig said...

Oh, man, now you've done it, Sully. . . Every bad Christmas song I've ever heard is flooding my brain now. . .

'Snoopy's Christmas'

John Lennon's 'Happy Christmas (War Is Over)' isn't really AWFUL, but I'm not a big fan of piggy-backing favorite political causes on Christmas. . . (So, you know. . . Beatles. . . Christmas. . . not necessarily a match made in Heaven. . . Did George or Ringo ever do a 'Christmas' song?)

And, like SueAnn, I do love me some TSO. . .

Craig said...

Sorry. . . but you did this to me. . .

There's a hilarious 'Porky Pig' version of 'Blue Christmas' somewhere out there. . .

"B-b-b-b'dee-b-blue, b-b-b-b'dee-b'dee-b-b-b-blue b'dee, Christmas. . ."

As I think on it, I might be confusing the 'Elmer Fudd voice' with something else. But it would be hilarious. . .

Karen said...

I love O Holy Night - pretty much sung by anyone.

Mich said...

Oh Holy Night, sung by Michael Crawford = absolutely favourite Christmas song ever.

I'll be sure and send you a CD of the death metal version of "All I Want For Christmas is You" when my brothers and I record it. :D

Pearl said...

Handel's Messiah and O Little Town of Bethlehem. :-)


Kat said...

I remember my grandma being APPALLED by Grandma Got Runover, but we thought it was hilarious! ;) My kids heard it today for the first time. They thought it was weird.

My list:
Anything sung by Nat King Cole
Oh Holy Night sung by my dad (most gorgeous version EVER, though Mariah Carey is undeniably good)
Silent Night sung by a church congregation (with German verse too)
White Christmas- Bing
What Are You Doing (New Year's Eve)- Harry Connick Jr
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)- Mariah Carey
No More Blue Christmases- Natalie Cole
Last Christmas- Wham (I know. Shut up.)
Miss You Most (At Christmastime)- Mariah Carey

I'm sure I'll think of more later and kick myself for not remembering them in the first place.

Michelle H. said...

I love most of the old Christmas songs that none in particular stand out.

I've never heard of Dominick the Christmas Donkey. With a name like that, I'm glad.

Absolutely hate the dogs barking Jingle bells song.

Suldog said...

Michelle - Oh, goodness. I forgot about the dogs (another which you may not have heard, by the same person who put that together, has cats meowing "Hava Nagilah")

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip said...

So... wouldn't you somebody'd bring up those flipping Barking Dogs. Now I will here them until something worse comes along.

I'm gonna go Google Green Christmas and listen to it for awhile.

lime said...

i'd have to say i mostly agree with you on the categories. i think i'd add novelty songs as a category all it's own though. that would include things like grandma got run over by a reindeer, and the absolutely spine decalcifying domenic the italian christmas donkey (my family will testify to my reaction being identical to YOUR WIFE's when i hear that song. the depth of my loathing for it cannot be plumbed).

i agree with your rankings of kings and contenders. in my newly added category i'd put grandma got run over as the king with the 12 pains of christmas being a contender (and actually my favorite).

my favorites in the other categories are:
carols: o come, o come emmanuel
traditional: carol of the bells
pop: burl ives holly jolly christmas

Jackie said...

Carols: "Silent Night," "Away in a Manger", "What Child is This"
Traditional: "Jingle Bells" (I love the light in my grandchidren's eyes when they hear that song) and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."
I love "Silver Bells," too. Such a beautiful song!
Check your mail. I'm wondering if the postman/postwoman will try and push the box through the slot in your front door. I sincerely hope not.
(I'm still fascinated by that mail slot.)
Merry Christmas, my friend.

Reena said...

Mariah does it so well!

Suldog's WIFE said...

"Christmas in the jungle and there isn't any mistletoe, it's Christmas in the jungle and there won't be any snow" I think that's the song that ended the Vietnam "Conflict"

Suldog's WIFE said...

I'm trespassing...I don't know why that #39 popped in

Hilary said...

I quite like The Drifters' version of White Christmas. Least favourite might be McCartney's Wonderful Christmas Time.

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite Christmas Song ever, John Lennon’s Happy Christmas.

Daryl said...

my fans are: I'll Be Home for Christmas and The Christmas Song .. i love them both .. so sentimental ...

Daryl said...

of course i also love ''dreidel dreidel dreidel'' ...

Unknown said...

I love the traditional songs, Bing Crosby et al,. but my new favorite is What Child is This sung by Andrea Bocelli (sp?) and Mary J. Blige. Sends chivers up my spine!

sandyland said...

I hear so many people on the street complaining about Christmas music . I love every second of it and the smaltzy movies

Jeni said...

I pretty much love all Christmas Carols and pretty much equally. I do have an absolute favorite but it's highly doubtful (unless you happen to have a heavy concentration of readers who are of Swedish ethnicity or speak Swedish) which is "Lyssna, Lyssna." Translated this means "Listen, Listen" and goes on to say "Hear the angels song." It was a big favorite of my Swedish Grandfather and anything he loved, I pretty much did and still do, too! Other favorites though -"I'll Be Home For Christmas" always chokes me up and I do love The Christmas Song" too. They can take the Barking Dogs and their Jingle Bells along with whoever ran over Grandma and shove them where the sun don't shine, ya know!