Thursday, December 14, 2006

Christmas tags

Susan Senator has tagged me to do a delightful seasonal meme, and since I enjoy compiling lists as much as Nick Hornby and enjoy Christmas music as much as Santa's elves, this one is a natural for me: Name your top five holiday songs, and explain why you chose them. I actually had a hard time narrowing down the list, so I decided that instead of thinking of favorite Christmas carols (I love 'em all), I'd think about specific recordings that I look forward to hearing every year. Here's what I've got:

1. "Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth" by David Bowie and Bing Crosby
I'm actually not a huge fan of "Little Drummer Boy" as a stand-alone, but couple it with the beautiful counter-melody of "Peace on Earth" and it slays me every time. The Bowie/Crosby pairing is pure genius, though I can't imagine the tv executives (the song originally appeared in a 1977 Bing Crosby television special) who sat around a table and thought "You know who'd make a great duet?" Maybe it's the juxtaposition of the two that makes it work so well, I don't know - but it's like last year's Grammy's mash-up that melded Paul McCartney with Jay-Z and Linkin Park. Only more so. With bells on.

2. "Wonderful Christmastime" by Paul McCartney
If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that this is a no-brainer.
Q: What's better than a Christmas song?
A: A Christmas song written and performed by Palmer Cartney.

3. "Christmas Waltz" by Frank Sinatra
I actually had to look up the title of this one, but it's the one that goes "Frosted window panes, candles gleaming inside. Painted candy canes on the tree. Santa's on his way; he's filled his sleigh with things - things for you and for me." I guess the bit about "this song of mine in three-quarter time" should have been a clue. I just think it's delightful, whatever it's called.

4. "Sleigh Ride"
I love most versions of this song, as long as they are performed in a straightforward way. I am profoundly uninterested in show-off performers adding runs and trills and odd syncopation to my Christmas standards, making it completely impossible to sing along. I am a "Sleigh Ride" purist, and prefer the song played loud when I am alone in the car.

I should mention that the definitive recording of the song for me, which I haven't actually heard in years, was the one that appeared on the Christmas compilation LP we owned when I was a child. I seem to recall that it was a gas station give-away - a free-with-a-fill-up sort of promotion - and it included a version of "Sleigh Ride" by Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. Now that was a sing-along good time.

5. "Fairytale of New York" by The Pogues
Okay, I'll grant you, this is not your typical warm and fuzzy, Currier and Ives, chestnuts-roasting-on-an-open-fire kind of tune. It's more the seamy underbelly of the Christmas season, with Shane MacGowan's opening stanza slurred out with a scowl:

It was Christmas Eve, babe,
In the drunk tank.
An old man said to me,
"Won't see another one."
And then he sang a song,
A rare old mountain tune.
I turned my face away,
And dreamed about you.

Kirsty MacColl joins MacGowan in a duet that Wikipedia describes as the story of "two Irish immigrants, lovers or ex-lovers, their youthful hopes all but crushed by alcoholism and drug addiction, reminiscing and bickering on Christmas Eve in New York City. " It may not sound like the stuff of which tradition is made, but trust me - not a Christmas goes by without my husband and me crooning to each other:

You scumbag, you maggot,
You cheap lousy f****t,
Happy Christmas your arse,
I pray God it's our last.

Except we sing it with love.

Now it's your turn: post your top five in the comments section, or leave a comment directing us to your blog.


Daisy said...

Wow, I love your list! I like how you've included performances that are out of the ordinary. My faves are too numerous to list, but I've been playing a Christmas CD called Nog by the Blenders, an acapella group, as I get ready for school each morning. The harmonies are fabulous.

Anonymous said...

This was so hard to choose:
-Christmas Wrapping; The Waitresses. It's good to forget cranberries sometimes...

-Pretty Ribbons of Blue; Roy Orbison. Wasn't this one written by Willie Nelson?

-Unto Us a Child is Given; from Handel's Messiah. So bouncy and joyous!

-White Christmas; sung by anybody, but especially Bing's version and Otis Redding's version

-Little Drummer Boy by Bing & Bowie tops my list also.

Anonymous said...

kjoel, Christmas Wrapping came very close to being my #5, but The Pogues edged it out at the last minute. I love it, though. It's a classic tale from an earlier time, when rap music had lyrics like "The A&P has provided me with the world's smallest turkey."

kristina said...

I turned my face away
And dreamed about you...


When the wind runs right through you
It's no place for the old
When you first took my hand on a cold Christmas Eve
You promised me Broadway was waiting for me

Great stuff!

Bowie and Bing, too.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could add some cool Chanukah tunes to your list, but um, there aren't any. Sure, there are songs, but they just aren't the catchy, feel-good, upbeat tunes I enthusiastically listen to and sing along with every December. If you feel the need to get my top five, my blog is

Anonymous said...

I detest the usual Christmas music that blares forth from tannoys in shops. Slade AAAAAAAAAAAArgh

My favourites would be

1. Veni Imanuel, chanted in latin of course

2. Gaudete (more latin but this time sung by Steeleye Span)

3. The Gower Wassail, (traditional sung by Steeleye Span)

4. Sumer is icumen in - no it's not a Christmas song but I wish the summer were here, other wise what I need is a nice warm fire :)

5. Jauchzet Frohlocket from Bach's Christmas Oratorio

Anonymous said...

What a great list! The Pogues song is on my own Xmas CD mix as well. "You took my dreams from me when I first found you." "I kept them with me, babe, and put them with my own. Can't make it out alone, I built my dreams around you." Beautiful.

Here are my favorites from my own Xmas mix (made back when Napster was free and you could find really great, random stuff). Since you already listed the Pogues, I will choose another:

1) Dave Matthews - "Christmas Song" (beautiful - his live version is the only one I've ever heard)
2) Robert Earl Keen - "Christmas with the Family"
3) Bare Naked Ladies/Sarah McLachlan - "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings" Medley (So good! Their voices together, the jazzy medley- luvit!)
4) Cyndi Lauper - "Feels Like Christmas"
5) Ella Fitzgerald - "Baby it's Cold Outside"

Lots of others, but these are my current favorites!

Drama Mama said...

I love ALL of your postings, however I finally feel compelled to post myself. Just got Bette Midler's new Xmas album yesterday, and nothing like a little Mele Kalikimaka sung by a Hawaiian-raised Jewish girl to get me in the mood. Bring on the Mai Tai Nog!

Anonymous said...

I have spent a few days listening to some of the listed songs and pondering my favourites and have listed them on my blog if you care to have a peek.

Anonymous said...

You had me until "Wonderful Christmastime." I did get a good chuckle this weekend though. I was waiting in a loooonnng line at the post office on Saturday when that tune started up. I looked around at the other 30+ people in the room, trying to figure out which one would go postal!

MOM-NOS said...

Aw, Susan, now you're just being mean. :)

Brett said...

Of course, there is that all-time classic 12-days of Christmas. But, which version to choose? A standard version, done all nice. A not so standard version, maybe not so nice?

The local high school band's Percussion Ensemble did an excellent instrumental version (I'm hoping to have it ripped to .mp3 and posted soon). And who can forget Bob and Doug McKenzie's performance on the Great White North album?

Destined to become an instant (well maybe not instant) classic is Twisted Sister's version on their new album "A Twisted Christmas." On the first day, the gift is a tattoo of Ozzy!!! And it just gets better!!! (Sorry, couldn't resist. For a detailed history of the song and descriptions of numerous versions, check out wikipedia.)

Seriously, great list. Merry Christmas everyone.