Saturday, December 23, 2006

My top five Christmas songs

I've been thinking about this one for a few days ... how to choose? Do I go by the song itself, or the specific version as sung by a particular person/group?

Because so much of the pleasure of Christmas for me lies in memories and associations, it's impossible to separate a song from its given performances. So "The Little Drummer Boy" in the abstract is nothing to write home about, but as sung by the duet of Bing Crosby and David Bowie it has particular resonance for me. So I'll start with my top five in the abstract, then move on to the real list:

5. Silent Night
4. Adestes Fideles
3. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
2. Good King Wenceslas
1. God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman

Yup, I'm pretty much a traditionalist with just the basic songs. And now the other list:

5. "The Twelve Days of Christmas," as sung by John Denver and the Muppets.
This, I think, is one of my favourite Christmas specials, and you hardly ever see it aired any more. And a quick perusal of Amazon didn't turn up a DVD of it ... what gives? Why has this most treasured of Christmas specials been consigned to oblivion? Just watch John Denver's face as he sings with the Muppets -- few humans have ever entered the Jim Henson world with quite that ease.

4. "The Little Drummer Boy" as sung by Bing Crosby and David Bowie.
Haunting is all I can say about this version -- and a great cross-generational moment. Originally aired as part of Bing's holiday special in 1977. The banter preceding the song is a bit stilted, but kind of funny anyway. "You're the poor American relation?" Hehee.

3. "White Christmas" as sung by Bing Crosby
Yup, more of Der Bingle ... the voice without which Christmas wouldn't just feel right.

2. "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" as sung by Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan.
This is the song that had to be on the list simply because I love the original carol. Pretty much any version will do for me, but I particularly like this one -- mainly for Sarah's vocals. Sorry about the generic video; there wasn't anything else attached to the song on YouTube.

1. "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" as sung by the Charlie Brown ensemble.
This never fails to make me cry. Unfortunately (and oddly), nobody has posted the song itself on YouTube, but there's a whole bunch of Linus' monologue available ... which is almost as good.

Runners-Up: Loreena McKennit singing "Good King Wenceslas"; "Auld Lang Syne" at the end of It's a Wonderful Life; the sequence on the first season West Wing Christmas episode, in which "The Little Drummer Boy" is sung by a boys' choir at the White House while Toby attends the funeral of a homeless Korea veteran; all of the jazz piano in the Charlie Brown Christmas special; "Do They Know It's Christmas" (the original!); Sting, "Gabriel's Message"; Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, "Marshmellow World."

What's everyone else's list?


Anonymous said...

top 5 favourite xmas songs...
5. Burl Ives "Holly Jolly Christmas"
4. Crash Test Dummies "The First Noel" (his voice is just perfect...)
3. Snoopy vs. the Red Baron
2. Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" (can't argue with the greats)
1. "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" (I hadn't heard the version you posted, Chris, before now, but I love it)

there you have it!
have a good one!

Lesley said...

Top Five and I have no particular order, I just love them...

Feliz Navidad, if only because it reminds me of working with a man from South America (who oddly, spoke Spanish and not Portuguese) who would sing the song with me while we worked (did I also mention I'm a little crazy?) at the grocery store we both worked at while I was in high school.

Oh Holy Night. But it has to be the Kelly Clarkson version or the Josh Grobin version. There's something about those really high and powerful voices that just make you tingle when you hear it.

I'll Be Home For Christmas. Sung by the Carpenters of course. Because there's something about about Karen Carpenters voice. We listened to the record over and over as a kid and it makes me feel happy hearing it.

When a Child is Born sung by Kenny Rogers. I love the monologue in the middle when he tells the brief Christmas story.

My Grown Up Christmas List. I recently fell in love with the version by Michael Buble. There's something about his voice that gives the song a haunting feel.

My all time favourite song though has to be Hark the Herald Angels sing. I love that song. No matter who sings it. Including my niece who can't really carry a tune.

And also, Sarah McLaghlins new Wintersong album is incredible. Her voice is just amazing.

Jer said...

Most of mine have been mentioned - but I have always loved "Personent hodie" - a very haunting melody (originally German, I believe). While we're in Latin, also "Gaudete" as recorded by Steeleye Span in the '70s. And then there's "The First Noel", especially the version that the BBC did for a fabulous, fabulous dramatization of Masefield's _Box of Delights_, circa 1984 (highly recommended).
From the sublime to the (more) ridiculous: every Christmas in the UK, there was Slade..."so here it is, Merry Christmas! everybody's having fun...."
How about the scat version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" from _Merry Christmas Mr Bean_ (when our man takes the baton and leads the brass band?) Or the version of the same from _Blackadder's Christmas Carol_ ("if we were little piggies we'd sing piggy-wiggy-wiggy-wiggy-woo")?

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