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25 Greatest Christmas Songs Countdown: #10 Step into Christmas

December 16, 2011 9 comments

I think this was the first modern Christmas song I ever really liked. If so, it probably started the process that changed me from someone who listened to Christmas music when it was on to someone who was actually interested in it.

And, you know how you can like a song for a while, and listen to it a lot, but then get kind of sick of it and don’t want to hear it so much anymore? Like, you still kinda like it, but now you want to like it without listening to it all the time? That didn’t happen to me with this song. It still works.

Remain standing for Elton John and “Step Into Christmas.” The admission, I hasten to remind you, is free.

#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

25 Greatest Christmas Songs Countdown: #11 Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

December 15, 2011 10 comments

Not a lot needs to be said about “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Peace on Earth, and mercy mild.

#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

25 Greatest Christmas Songs Countdown: #12 Marshmallow World

December 14, 2011 11 comments

Coincidentally I’m doing this list at the same time that my co-author Chris Sims is doing a similar one at his site. And already there’s been some overlap between the two. (There will be more.) One difference I thought I could count on was that I didn’t care about “Marshmallow World” while he thought it was great.

Because the version of “Marshmallow World” I knew best is the Darlene Love version from the Phil Spector Christmas album. And that never did a lot for me. I mean, Darlene Love’s great and everything, but the song sounds rushed, like they were racing to the end of it, and it just doesn’t knock me over.

I had forgotten about the Kim Stockwood version.

When Kim Stockwood sings it, she takes it easy, and the lyrics don’t whip by you, and it’s a good time all around. It’s a fun song! Who knew. Listening to Darlene Love, you hardly notice the lyrics, and that’s too bad. Other good thing about the Stockwood cover is the oddly ominous opening, like the world’s about to end; wonder what’s going on with that. (And she takes control of the song with a lot more assurance than Sinatra and Martin.) Give it up for Kim Stockwood’s “Marshmallow World“.

#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

25 Greatest Christmas Songs Countdown: #13 We Need a Little Christmas

December 13, 2011 12 comments

Chances are decent you’ve seen this xkcd cartoon by now. It is certainly true that the Christmas music of that period, say ’40s through ’60s, has stuck with us pretty good. I’ve hit a few of those songs on this list so far–“Let it Snow…”, “Blue Christmas,” etc. To me, though, the ones I’ve touched on don’t seem to be of their era the way, say, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is.

But here’s one that does. It’s from the musical Mame, apparently, from the mid-’60s, but I mostly know the Muppets version of it, which won me over mostly for the way they lean on the lyric, “from that evergreen bough”. It feels like exactly the same kind of Christmas song as “Holly Jolly Christmas”.

Pick out your own favourite version, though. I think Andy Williams covered it too. (Probably inevitable, really.) Hang some tinsel for the act of your choice performing “We Need a Little Christmas.”

#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

25 Greatest Christmas Songs Countdown: #14 Christmas in Hollis

December 12, 2011 13 comments

That first disc in the A Very Special Christmas series… that turned out to be pretty huge for Christmas music. A lot of the songs on there have become standards, pretty much. Anybody know if the songs were recorded just for the album, or if the album was compiled from already existing material? I have the idea that the former is the case. There’s good stuff on the second and third albums in this series, too, but that’s where I got off the bus; didn’t see anything on the subsequent entries that made me want to buy ’em.

On that first disc, there was only one original song, and this is it. It’s also the song I’d save if I could only keep one. (A strong second: Madonna’s cover of “Santa Baby”. The more I hear Eartha Kitt’s original version, with Eartha droning on like she doesn’t understand what she’s singing, the more I appreciate Madonna’s audible playfulness. Yeah, I know a lot of people don’t like it.)

Enjoy some chicken and collard greens in honour of Run-DMC’s Christmas in Hollis.

#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

25 Greatest Christmas Songs Countdown: #15 Blue Christmas

December 11, 2011 16 comments

Back in the first entry of this list, I said that “Sleigh Ride” was one of two Christmas songs that there were, it seemed, no bad versions of. “Blue Christmas” is the other one.

Elvis Presley looms large here, of course; it’s kind of his song. But Elvis doesn’t seem all that Christmassy to me and I’ve heard many other versions I prefer. Not that Elvis does a bad job with it, or anything; if that’s your preference then I have no dispute with you. But you’ll be doing all right with someone else too.

We’ve got songs called “Blue Christmas”, “White Christmas,” “Green Christmas,” and I think there’s a horror movie called, “Black Christmas”. Have any other colours been covered? Is there a “Red Christmas”? (And if so, what the flip is it about?)

Let’s have a big hand for everyone who’s ever taken a stab at “Blue Christmas“, and many more.

#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

25 Greatest Christmas Songs Countdown: #16 God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

December 10, 2011 15 comments

So a couple of days ago when I talked about how Christmas tended to absorb whatever drifted across its bow, one thing I could have mentioned but didn’t was Christianity. I don’t think it’s obscure information that Christmas started off as a pagan winter-solstice festival that got co-opted by Christianity sometime in the past twenty centuries, on the theory that pagans would be more likely to go along with Christianity if they got to keep their same holidays with a new coat of paint.

In other words, when you see the slogan “Jesus Is the Reason for the Season,” it’s not quite right. The days getting longer again is the main reason for the season. Jesus is… well, we shouldn’t overstate the case. The nativity story is, by now, legitimately a big part of Christmas. Not the only part. But certainly a big part. And that’s okay with me.

I mean, I am no kind of a religious guy. Not at all. And I don’t get any more so just because it’s Christmas. But I have to admit that a lot of the Christmas songs that do emphasize the birth of Jesus are really good.

So light a candle for one of the best ones, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” You probably know it pretty well, so select the version of your choice.

#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

25 Greatest Christmas Songs Countdown: #17 Oi! To the World

December 9, 2011 20 comments

One of the songs that people have suggested for this, that I keep seeing mentioned as a big favourite by this person here or that group of listeners there, is “Fairytale of New York,” by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. I am sorry to say that it is not to be. I’ve listened to it more than once and am perfectly willing to admit that it’s a good song, and if I kept listening to it I might rate it even higher than that, but I can’t call it a good Christmas song. It’s, you know, gritty and kind of sordid.

Gritty all by itself wouldn’t have been too bad; today’s pick, “Oi! To the World,” is kinda gritty itself (and has the extra advantage of being the only Christmas song I’ve ever heard to namecheck Indiana Jones). But to much different effect; it’s witty and bouncy and the ending is at least partly positive, and then there’s the great chorus.

About that chorus. I’ve listened as carefully as I could, and I’ve checked lyrics sites online, and it seems like the last line of the chorus is, “And “Oi!” to the world, and everybody wins.” To me, though, this is not completely settled, because a) I’m not 100% sure that that’s what I’m hearing (in every rendition of the song, anyway), and b) it makes so much more sense for it to be “And “Oi!” to the world, and everybody in’t.” (Contraction of “in it”.) I mean, everybody wins, what’s that mean? Wins what? And that might be what the singer’s singing.

Oh well.

There are two versions of the song I know of. One’s the cover by No Doubt, which is the one I know best. The other is the original by the Vandals, which I only looked up last week and turns out to be not all that different from No Doubt. They’re both good, but the originator wins the tie, so let’s break some heads in honour of the Vandals and Oi! To the World.

#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

25 Greatest Christmas Songs Countdown: #18 What’s This? & Making Christmas

December 8, 2011 17 comments

Thing about Christmas is that it’s like the English language: it soaks up anything it touches. Hanukkah, for instance. Clearly, Hanukkah is a thing on its own, independent of Christmas. But it’s also clear that an awareness of Hanukkah (however imperfect) is (now) part of the Christmas experience.

So: Joni Mitchell’s “River”. Folk song or Christmas song? Started as a folk song, but it’s both now. Hogfather: fantasy novel or Christmas novel? It’s both. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” I wasn’t paying enough attention at the time of its initial release to know how much of a Christmas song it was considered to be at the time, but it’s certainly one now. Die Hard. Christmas movie? You bet it is.

Which is what makes the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas so great, because it plays on exactly this phenomenon. The characters in the movie think it’s about Hallowe’en taking over Christmas, but what it’s really about is Christmas seeping into Hallowe’en. This is all thanks to the main character, Jack Skellington, who falls in love with Christmas at first sight despite the fact that, really, he’s not capable of processing Christmas on any level. But even he still gets something out of it, because basically Christmas is for anybody who wants it.

Anyway, the thing that makes the movie work, that convinces us of the premise, is the delight that Jack takes in everything Christmas-related, as we see in two of the movie’s great songs. “What’s This?” lets us see Christmas through the eyes of someone who loves it but really doesn’t get it at all, and “Making Christmas” shows us how much he really doesn’t get it. “What’s This?” is more Christmassy but “Making Christmas” is catchier.

Let’s all snap our fingers in a jaded and ironic fashion for What’s This? and Making Christmas, from the OST of The Nightmare Before Christmas.

#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

25 Greatest Christmas Songs Countdown: #19 Jingle Bell Rock

December 7, 2011 20 comments

I don’t blame you if you’re sick of it. They really do play it to death, don’t they? Then again, the version you’re probably sick of is the Bobby Helms original. I have nothing to say against Bobby Helms, who does a perfectly respectable version of the song. But if you really want to hear something, you need to get yourself a copy of A Very Special Christmas 2 and hear Randy Travis’s cover.

It’s one of those songs that, if you listen to it, rather than just letting it bounce off your forehead becaues you’ve heard it ten thousand times, you start to notice how the singer–Travis more than Helms–seems to be trying to put enough power into phrases like “in the frosty air” and “what a bright time” to make them symbols or something. Also, I’m a sucker for the false ending, which Travis does very well here.

Take whatever you have in your hand and bang it on the table for Randy Travis’s “Jingle Bell Rock”.

#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