Having a tough time staying in the holiday spirit? Here’s some music to lighten your mood, in no particular order…
The Christmas Song, The Nat King Cole Trio
There are actually two different versions of this with Nat King Cole singing: one recorded in 1946 by the Nat King Cole Trio and the other version recorded by Nat King Cole in 1961. The latter is the more popular one, recorded in stereo with a full orchestra. Many pop starts have tried in vain to beat this version, but nothing comes close.
Thurl Ravenscroft’s performance on this track never fails to bring a smile to my face, especially since I’ve been known to be quite the Grinch around the holidays. The musical arrangement complements Ravenscroft’s voice quite nicely, and conjures up images of that green, devious smile as Mr. Grinch rolls ornaments into a sack using a cane as a pool cue!
Mariah Carey absolutely kills this one (in a good way) and practically melts the snow in the video. The Spector-esque production by Walter Afanasieff is outstanding. Rumor has it that this has been the most played holiday song in 2019.
If Adam Sandler’s The Hanukhah Song doesn’t make you laugh, you really are a Grinch. I’ll never know how he managed not to break up when he performed it on SNL.
There are a lot of versions of this song but one of the best is from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Recorded live in 1978, Springsteen’s voice is raw (probably from touring all year), and we get treated to a growly sax solo by Clarence Clemons. While not playing the sax, Clemons is flaunting his Santa hat and ho-ho-ho-ing it up.
Spearheaded by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure under the moniker Band Aid, “Do They Know It’s Christmas” was recorded in 1984 to raise awareness of and provide financial relief for famine in Ethiopia. The song set off a chain of “aid” recordings that would raise funds to fight famine in Africa. Listen and be thankful.
Recorded in 1977 for the television special Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas, this odd pairing of performers somehow works. After the two sing harmony on the opening lines of “Drummer Boy,” David Bowie contributes a counterpoint “Peace On Earth” lyric written specifically for this performance while Crosby “bah-rum-pum-pums.” Stranger than fiction.
I never met Burl Ives but he must have been jolly. You can hear it in his voice. This gem was on the soundtrack to Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. Ives’ performance on the title song also gets honorable mention here. Don’t forget: Bumbles Bounce!
Grandma + Too Much Eggnog = hoofprints on the forehead. Hilarious, thanks to Elmo & Patsy.
The opening of this track features a message from young Michael Jackson wishing everyone a Merry Christmas to all Motown fans—which should cover just about everyone on the planet. Why was Mommy kissing Santa?
Recorded in 1958 by Brenda Lee, “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” has been recorded by many other artists, none of whom match Lee’s performance. Lee’s version has sold more than 25 million copies and ranks among the highest for digital downloads of a Christmas song. Dig the tape echo on Lee’s vocal.
The best known version of this song is the 1957 recording by Bobby Helm (though he re-recorded it several times). The song charted again in 1966, 1997, 2016 and 2019, when it reached Number 8 in the Billboard Hot 100. Amazing.
Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24
Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s blistering arrangement of these familiar themes takes holiday music to another level. Ignore the fact that you hear it on car commercials.
Judy Garland debuted this song in the 1944 musical Meet Me In St. Louis. Honorable mention to versions recorded by Bing Crosby and Luther Vandross.
Written by Irving Berlin, “White Christmas” was recorded by Bing Crosby in 1942 and again in 1947. The version from 1947 is a better recording, but I think his performance from 1942 is superior. If you really want to get in the holiday mood, get together with a bunch of friends and watch the movie of the same name. Bonus points if you call the fire department while my brother-in-law virtually sets the house on fire attempting to make beignets.
My best to everyone for a safe and happy holiday, and good things in 2020.