The best for last. I know I’d said earlier that “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is my favorite Christmas song, and in terms of songs actually about Christmas, that’s true. But there’s a song out there which trumps it, even though I’m sure for some people it wouldn’t count.
It was awfully hard to pick just one song from the Vince Guaraldi’s famous soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas. I almost went with “O Tannenbaum” (another favorite) but in the end, I had to pick the iconic “Linus and Lucy.” When you think about it, the song itself has nothing really to do with Christmas. But this song to me—and millions of other people—just screams Christmas. It’s pretty-near perfect.
In fact, I’m going to listen to the entire album all over again once I’m done writing this. So wonderful.
Ah, “The Christmas Song,” which I think most people know as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” due to the opening song. Mel Torme and Bob Wells’s song is a classic, and I don’t just say that because more people than I can count have covered it. (No, seriously. Check out the page on Wikipedia, the list just goes on and on and on.)
Probably the most famous version is by Nat King Cole (he actually did four versions!). His smooth voice coupled with the simple instrumentation? Marvelous. This is one of those few songs where if someone doesn’t like it, I seriously wonder what went wrong. (If you don’t like it, my apologies. But you’re slightly wrong in the head.)
Ever had one of those songs that you hate, until you hear a version that makes you love it? That’s how I feel about Loreena McKennitt’s “Good King Wenceslas.” I don’t know what about most versions that turns it into an instant turn off, save that it’s normally enough to get me diving for the off button.
Loreena McKennitt’s rendition, though… it just feels festive, and happy, and there’s something about this one that strikes the right nerve that none of the others have. She recorded this on her A Winter Garden EP back in the day, although when looking up a YouTube link for the song, imagine my surprise to see that she’s since gone back and recorded eight additional tracks, paired them with the five from the EP, and released it as the full-length’s album A Midwinter Night’s Dream.
Totally ridiculous. But how can you not love a song where the lead-in to the first chorus is “Bing Crosby! Bing Crosby!” (It’s also a surprisingly sentimental, anti-commercial song.) Take it on home, Pet Shop Boys.
(I am pretty sure this choice will horrify a lot of people. That’s ok.)
Tori Amos’s “A Silent Night With You” is another original song, but there’s a personal story behind this one and how it ended up on my favorite list. I was a big, big, big Tori Amos fan back in the early-to-mid-’90s. Bought all her albums and singles, absolutely devoted to her output. And then, as time went on… her later albums did nothing for me. Maybe it was her, maybe it was me, maybe it was a combination of the two. But I’d burnt out on Tori Amos, and in mid-2009 when her new album came out, I listened to it streaming online and decided not to buy it.
Then, a few months later, she released Midwinter Graces, and it did for me what her last couple couldn’t; drew me in and grabbed my attention. It was a lovely reminder of what I’d liked from some of her earlier albums, and was nice to know that she could still create something that felt like it was especially for me. (Interestingly enough, I also think it’s not like anything else she’s done, so that made it all the more impressive.) Anyway, this is a simple but lovely song from the album that just makes me feel like I’m in front of a fireplace with snow coming down outside. Good stuff.
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is my all-time favorite Christmas song; it says a lot that there are multiple renditions of this song I could pick from, and most of them are quite excellent. But of course, it’s only appropriate in this case to go straight to the source with the original. Namely, Judy Garland singing it in Meet Me in St. Louis.
Keen observers might note that the lyrics are slightly different than a lot of the later versions; when Frank Sinatra covered it he changed the lyrics to be a little more happy/cheerful. Personally I like the original better, but to each their own…
Like so many people this time of year, I’ve gone and dredged up a playlist on my iPhone that normally gathers dust for 11 months out of the year: my Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe playlist.
No no, just kidding, it’s my Christmas playlist.
Anyway, it’s a great time of year for music, so I thought it might be fun to share some of my favorites… so, seven days of Christmas songs! Let’s see if I can really pull this off.
First up, Aimee Mann’s “Calling on Mary.” It’s an original song from her One More Drifter in the Snow album, and I just love her deep, soulful voice on this song. So many original Christmas songs stink (let’s be honest, they really do) but this is one of the few exceptions to the rule. It’s hard to keep from humming this song after you listen to it.