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25 Greatest Christmas Songs Countdown: #1 Christmas Dream

December 25, 2011 2 comments

We have finally arrived at the greatest Christmas song ever. And I’m willing to bet it’s one you’ve never heard of.

In 1972, thriller writer Frederick Forsyth wrote a novel called The Odessa File, about the hunt for a former concentration-camp commander. It was turned into a movie in 1974 starring Jon Voight and Maximilian Schell; I haven’t seen it. (Very Christmassy story so far, right?) But they got Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice to do the soundtrack, and they got Perry Como to sing Webber and Rice’s theme song, “Christmas Dream”. I have heard Como’s version of the song, and it’s pretty bad.

Skip forward to the 1990s, when we find noted singer John McDermott assembling a bunch of colleagues together as the Mistletones and releasing a couple of albums, Hello Christmas and A Cappella Christmas, both recommended. The first track off of A Cappella Christmas was their cover of “Christmas Dream”. And I don’t know what they saw in it, or why they thought an Andrew Lloyd Webber song from a freaking spy movie was worth their time, but they made it amazing.

Here’s one other thing I like about it. It looks forward. Lots of Christmas stuff looks backward. “Just like the ones we used to know.” “Tales of the glories of Christmases long long ago.” “All the fun we had last year.” And never mind the preoccupation with some kid being born two thousand and change years ago.

Well, I have no problem with remembering or learning from the past; not at all. But I am not a nostalgist. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my years of blogging about the Legion of Super-Heroes, it’s that nostalgia doesn’t get you anywhere. It just gets in the way of the future. And, as has often been said, the future is where we’re going to be living the rest of our lives, so we might as well get used to it now.

The point of “Christmas Dream” is that Christmas can make the world better, now and in the future. It’s not about how things were good; it’s about how things can be better, if we make it that way.

At this point I’d like to link you to a YouTube clip or something of the song, but they ain’t one. It is available on iTunes; I can do that much for you. You used to be able to buy the CD off of John McDermott’s website but now for some reason you can’t.

Merry Christmas to John McDermott and the Mistletones; their rendition of “Christmas Dream” is everything that is good about Christmas, and Merry Christmas to all of you as well.

I like this list format; I think I’ll stick with it, but for, you know, other stuff. (Probably not daily.) Watch this space.

#25: Sleigh Ride
#24: Huron Carol
#23: Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!/Count Your Blessings/We Wish You a Merry Christmas
#22: The Twelve Days of Christmas
#21: I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday
#20: Fuck Christmas
#19: Jingle Bell Rock
#18: What’s This? & Making Christmas
#17: Oi! To the World
#16: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
#15: Blue Christmas
#14: Christmas in Hollis
#13: We Need a Little Christmas
#12: Marshmallow World
#11: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
#10: Step Into Christmas
#9: Jingle Bells
#8: Christmas Comes But Once a Year (Christmas in Carrick)
#7: Christmas Wrapping
#6: Silver Bells
#5: O Holy Night
#4: Carol of the Bells
#3: All I Want for Christmas Is You
#2: Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

25 Greatest Christmas Songs Countdown: #2 Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

December 24, 2011 1 comment

I’m tempted to put this one higher. Number one. That’s how great it is. But the problem with it is (and it’s the same for yesterday’s song, with which it actually has some things in common) that it’s largely about romantic love, which certainly has its place at Christmastime, but is not the main attraction of Christmas.

Chances are you’re familiar with the U2 version of this song. I’m not here to pick a fight with U2; they did a perfectly good job. There’s nothing wrong with their rendition at all. Darlene Love’s just better at this than they are, that’s all.

Darlene Love was one of the great soul singers of her time. She never got the fame that usually comes with a description like that (although she did okay) so it’s possible that you only know her from playing Trish Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon movies. She was the real thing, though, and she really gets her shoulder behind this song, to an extent perhaps unsurpassed in the human history of singing.

Close your eyes and listen to Darlene Love, backed by Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, unleashing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” upon you.

#25: Sleigh Ride
#24: Huron Carol
#23: Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!/Count Your Blessings/We Wish You a Merry Christmas
#22: The Twelve Days of Christmas
#21: I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday
#20: Fuck Christmas
#19: Jingle Bell Rock
#18: What’s This? & Making Christmas
#17: Oi! To the World
#16: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
#15: Blue Christmas
#14: Christmas in Hollis
#13: We Need a Little Christmas
#12: Marshmallow World
#11: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
#10: Step Into Christmas
#9: Jingle Bells
#8: Christmas Comes But Once a Year (Christmas in Carrick)
#7: Christmas Wrapping
#6: Silver Bells
#5: O Holy Night
#4: Carol of the Bells
#3: All I Want for Christmas Is You

25 Greatest Christmas Songs Countdown: #3 All I Want for Christmas Is You

December 23, 2011 2 comments

If there’s a Christmas movie I keep coming back to more than any other, it’s Love Actually. It’s an interesting movie, in that it’s such a weird mix of strengths and flaws that overall it’s only average but at its best it’s magnificent. (Which means that it’s pretty bad at its worst: it gets mean with the fat jokes, too many of its love stories are similarly shaped from a social-status point of view, some parts don’t go with the other parts, no gay characters when you’d think that this’d be the perfect movie to have some…) Anyway, discover it for yourself if you’re so inclined, but one of the best scenes for me is at the Christmas pageant when Olivia Olson sings, “All I Want for Christmas Is You”.

And she nails it. She sings it more than Mariah Carey did. Some will speak up for the Pipettes cover, and that’s fine, but I’ll take this one. I can’t even listen to the thing without tearing up.

(Incidentally, the movie soundtrack contains a second worthwhile Christmas song you’re not going to come across anywhere else: Bill Nighy, as “Billy Mack”, turning the old Troggs (and Wet Wet Wet) song “Love Is All Around” into “Christmas Is All Around”.)

Sit back, strap yourself in, and prepare yourself for Olivia Olson’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You“.

#25: Sleigh Ride
#24: Huron Carol
#23: Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!/Count Your Blessings/We Wish You a Merry Christmas
#22: The Twelve Days of Christmas
#21: I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday
#20: Fuck Christmas
#19: Jingle Bell Rock
#18: What’s This? & Making Christmas
#17: Oi! To the World
#16: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
#15: Blue Christmas
#14: Christmas in Hollis
#13: We Need a Little Christmas
#12: Marshmallow World
#11: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
#10: Step Into Christmas
#9: Jingle Bells
#8: Christmas Comes But Once a Year (Christmas in Carrick)
#7: Christmas Wrapping
#6: Silver Bells
#5: O Holy Night
#4: Carol of the Bells

25 Greatest Christmas Songs Countdown: #4 Carol of the Bells

December 22, 2011 3 comments

Like “O Holy Night”, the “Carol of the Bells” is one that I’m still searching for the perfect version of. Only I’m more confident that it exists.

All I want is a full-length choral rendition of the song, with whatever orchestral accompaniment is necessary to make the thing sound right. It’s out there somewhere. The version that’s on the Home Alone soundtrack is excellent; the only problem with it is that it’s short. I also liked the one at the end of the West Wing episode where Josh goes nuts. And I should mention the Barra MacNeils version too: it’s very good, and I like it a lot and am glad to have it, but it’s a different style from what I’m looking for. But too often you get these little one-buttocked instrumental versions, like on the Barenaked Ladies Christmas album, and it’s just don’t even bother.

(What I don’t want is that Mannheim Steamroller/Trans-Siberian Express kind of treatment. I have no time for that stuff at all; it’s the only kind of Christmas music I bar completely.)

But I’ll find it eventually. Someone’s done it. It’s out there. Throw cares away and find your own favourite version of the “Carol of the Bells“.

#25: Sleigh Ride
#24: Huron Carol
#23: Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!/Count Your Blessings/We Wish You a Merry Christmas
#22: The Twelve Days of Christmas
#21: I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday
#20: Fuck Christmas
#19: Jingle Bell Rock
#18: What’s This? & Making Christmas
#17: Oi! To the World
#16: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
#15: Blue Christmas
#14: Christmas in Hollis
#13: We Need a Little Christmas
#12: Marshmallow World
#11: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
#10: Step Into Christmas
#9: Jingle Bells
#8: Christmas Comes But Once a Year (Christmas in Carrick)
#7: Christmas Wrapping
#6: Silver Bells
#5: O Holy Night

25 Greatest Christmas Songs Countdown: #5 O Holy Night

December 21, 2011 6 comments

I have yet to hear the perfect version of “O Holy Night”. But maybe that’s just me. Actually, you know what? I’m going to start talking about all kinds of stuff that by any reasonable standard I know nothing about, so you shouldn’t pay any attention to me. Stop reading now and go do something else.

As previously stated, I like my Christmas to go pretty light on the Jesus. After all, I am not a believer. But I have spent a few decades in western civilization, and as such I’ve formed some opinions on Christianity over the years. One of which is this: whether you believe or not, the Christian religion and all its trappings have a great deal of resonance, of cultural weight. We’ve been groomed to be impressed by that stuff, deep down. (This is why Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were better movies than Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Stupid Crystal Skull: they used this phenomenon.)

And that’s what “O Holy Night” can play on. There’s power in that song, and the perfect version of the song should be able to bring it out. When the singer bellows out, “Fall on your knees,” it should drive anybody listening to their knees. But most singers treat it like just another lyric.

Not because Christmas is about domination and subservience. Just because what’s happening here, the incarnation of God on Earth (which is, after all, the story in question), is impressive. It’s, you know, kind of a big thing. And this is exactly the song to put that over. But I don’t know of a case where anybody’s managed the trick.

Carve yourself off a slab of fruitcake and look for such a version of “O Holy Night” here.

#25: Sleigh Ride
#24: Huron Carol
#23: Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!/Count Your Blessings/We Wish You a Merry Christmas
#22: The Twelve Days of Christmas
#21: I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday
#20: Fuck Christmas
#19: Jingle Bell Rock
#18: What’s This? & Making Christmas
#17: Oi! To the World
#16: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
#15: Blue Christmas
#14: Christmas in Hollis
#13: We Need a Little Christmas
#12: Marshmallow World
#11: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
#10: Step Into Christmas
#9: Jingle Bells
#8: Christmas Comes But Once a Year (Christmas in Carrick)
#7: Christmas Wrapping
#6: Silver Bells

25 Greatest Christmas Songs Countdown: #6 Silver Bells

December 20, 2011 5 comments

It’s my experience that this is the best song for getting into the Christmas spirit. Christmas shopping can be a pain but it’s not so bad if you think about it like this.

“Silver Bells” has been covered by everybody and his dog, of course. I expected the Supremes’ version to be really good, because it’s exactly Diana Ross’s kind of song, but turns out it’s too slow. Anne Murray did okay with it. I prefer a female vocalist for this song but it’s not something I’d make a big deal about.

Dig Santa’s big scene with your favourite rendition of “Silver Bells“.

#25: Sleigh Ride
#24: Huron Carol
#23: Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!/Count Your Blessings/We Wish You a Merry Christmas
#22: The Twelve Days of Christmas
#21: I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday
#20: Fuck Christmas
#19: Jingle Bell Rock
#18: What’s This? & Making Christmas
#17: Oi! To the World
#16: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
#15: Blue Christmas
#14: Christmas in Hollis
#13: We Need a Little Christmas
#12: Marshmallow World
#11: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
#10: Step Into Christmas
#9: Jingle Bells
#8: Christmas Comes But Once a Year (Christmas in Carrick)
#7: Christmas Wrapping

25 Greatest Christmas Songs Countdown: #7 Christmas Wrapping

December 19, 2011 6 comments

Getting down toward the end of the list now, and I’m kind of stuck. I know what the top, oh, five songs are, but I’ve used up most of the other ones I need to include. So that leaves me with this little number, which I had actually never heard until last year, although I had heard of it, and which I kind of wanted to include. It isn’t really like any other Christmas song I’ve ever heard of.

Really wordy, isn’t it? But you have to love the horns.

Don’t forget to tip the Waitresses and their song, “Christmas Wrapping“.

#25: Sleigh Ride
#24: Huron Carol
#23: Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!/Count Your Blessings/We Wish You a Merry Christmas
#22: The Twelve Days of Christmas
#21: I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday
#20: Fuck Christmas
#19: Jingle Bell Rock
#18: What’s This? & Making Christmas
#17: Oi! To the World
#16: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
#15: Blue Christmas
#14: Christmas in Hollis
#13: We Need a Little Christmas
#12: Marshmallow World
#11: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
#10: Step Into Christmas
#9: Jingle Bells
#8: Christmas Comes But Once a Year (Christmas in Carrick)