As I write this article, December is here. At long last, it makes sense for Christmas music to be playing. As I've worked in retail for many years, I hear a lot of Christmas music (Yes, I said Christmas music and I'll say it 'til I die) on the radio. I'm okay with a lot of the music they play, but I have my own favorites that I would be fine with hearing on a loop.
So, with that, here's my Christmas playlist. These 14 songs are collected semi-randomly, but each one of them is very enjoyable to me.
12.) A tie for 12th place is between two versions of "The 12 Days Of Christmas". One version was performed by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas as their characters of Bob and Doug McKenzie, while the other was performed by famed supermodel Janice Dickinson.
I first heard the McKenzie Brothers' version when I purchased the "Great White North" on CD. It's a wonderful album to just sit around and relax to. The album was mostly comedy that could be heard year-round, but they performed a funny version of "The 12 Days Of Christmas". Their 12 presents involved frequent topics of discussion like beer and donuts. Those two items remind me of visiting the relatives every Christmas Eve. My uncle is a drinking fellow, oftentimes having to leave the room sometime in the evening due to sorrow. Donuts, to me, represent the desserts we always have after our dinner. We have lots of great stuff...Cake, cookies, homemade bon-bons, stuff like that. It's always a special occasion. Listening to this song reminds me of that...Oh, and to be clear, I don't live anywhere near Canada, and neither do my relatives. This track just has a wintry sensibility to it.
Janice Dickinson performed her own version in 2006 to promote her show "The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency". She has her own items to sing about. For example, instead of two turtle-doves, she mentions two fake breasts, and Instead of 5 golden rings, she mentions 5 naked men. Hearing this variation of it reminds me of how much I enjoyed her book "No Lifeguard On Duty", which I received as a Christmas present last year. Track that down...It's frank, funny and sometimes shocking.
The best thing about these two tracks is that they both make fun of how unwieldy the original song is. The McKenzies lose track around the 6th day of Christmas, while Dickinson ends up speaking over some of the days, frustrated as all get-out.
The original is dry...These versions are wet. It's Winter...If you freeze, it's cool. Thank you, I'll be here all evening. Try the veal. It's delicious.
11.) I'm not really one for technologically engineered musical duets, and I'm not much of a country music person, either. Somehow, though, I'm able to put that to the side and enjoy the engineered cover of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" as performed by the late Dean Martin and the still-living Martina McBride.
I'm not quite sure how this got to be a Christmas song. The lyrics don't really have any mention of Christmasy things. It's just your average duet with double entendres. I'm guessing that the element of Winter is what makes it a Christmas track.
Now for the artists.
Dean Martin reminds me of my old friend "Bruce" (who I also wrote about in my articles "The Age Old Question" and "25 Of My Favorite 80s Ballads". He was part Italian, and so he had a soft spot for those old crooners. That's why it's difficult for me to listen to some of the artists on this list...It's hard dealing with his disappearance, but then, I remember all the fun we had around this time of year, My birthday is 3 days before Christmas, and he would often come over to hang out with me and several others on that day. He always bought me a present, usually cash, and we would just talk and have fun. I miss him.
Now for Martina McBride. I'm not much for modern country (Having to hear it at karaoke all the time can get annoying), but I can make an exception for Martina McBride. First, I think she looks good, and secondly, there's more to her than just country. She's also tackled non-country songs quite well (A particular highlight being an appearance on "Sesame Street" where she sang a spoof of "That's Entertainment" called "That's Pretending"). If she were to cut a non-country album, she could really do something special. I'd rather hear her do a show tune than Bon Jovi doing a country track. Open note to Jon and the gang: You're down South right now...Get back to South Jersey. Pop rock awaits your return.
This song is yet another example of how much I like the entertainment of this decade. I'll always love 80s music (It's my preferred genre), but this is a fine track itself. Give it a chance. You might like it.
10.) Back when my local CW affiliate was known as WPIX (and will be again when the digital conversion is completed next year), they were known as New York's Movie Station, and they weren't lying. Movies every night and block of them on the weekends. One evening, I saw some of the film "Santa Claus: The Movie".
It was a very cute movie and very uplifting in its' own unique way. John Lithgow's performance was a particular favorite.
Anyway, over the closing credits, there was a wonderful song that played called "It's Christmas All Over The World" as performed by one of my favorites, Ms. Sheena Easton.
This was 1985 when the song was performed. The year prior, she was singing hyper-sexual tracks like "Strut" and "Sugar Walls". This track was like a return to her early days, the days of tracks like "Morning Train (9 To 5)", when the songs were very clean-cut. There was a great beauty to the track...It had a feeling of peace to it...A feeling that, for one day, things can be okay.
Very wonderful track...It's rather hard-to-find, though. Look for it on YouTube.
Speaking of peace and all that, let's go to track number 9.
9.) The song is "My Grown-Up Christmas List" as performed by Amy Grant.
Life is a series of ups-and-downs. One day, you're calm and feeling wonderful. The next, you're a weeping wreck. Okay, maybe that's just my experience.
When I first heard this track, I just thought "You know, this is how I want my life to be". The lyrics were simple, yet they said so much.
These lyrics, Grant's "wishes", stuck with me:
"Everyone would have a friend,
And right would always win,
And love would never end".
I have made a lot of progress, but sometimes I still doubt myself. This song is about faith, but there are elements of doubt to it as well. Since time immemorial, the news people's motto has been "If it bleeds, it leads". I mean, when was the last time you saw a newscast where the good outweighed the bad? It was like that in the 80s, it was like that in the 90s, and it's like that now.
When I listen to this song, it gives me hope that things can actually be okay. In that time period from December 22nd to December 25th, things actually are okay. The period of time starts with my birthday and ends on Christmas Day. Within that time, I'm with family and friends, and the spirit of the season is reinforced once more.
Alright, let's lighten things up with track 8.
8.) The song is "Christmas At Ground Zero" by "Weird" Al Yankovic.
Al has always had an odd sense of humor, and it's exhibited quite well in this track. I first heard it back in the early 90s. I just thought it had a jolly sound to it, but as I grew older, I paid attention to the lyrics and I thought they were genius.
He has quite a way with lyrics. For example:
"Everywhere the atom bombs are dropping,
It's the end of all humanity.
No more time for last minute shopping,
It's time to face your final destiny".
Serious lyrics upon first read, but when you listen to the song, it's sung in a very upbeat manner, and you're like, hey, let's have some fun.
The music video is great, too. It's filled with stock footage that combines images of Christmas frivolity with images of atom bombs, safety films and even Ronald Reagan.
The Reagan shot is quite funny. It's stock footage of him delivering a Christmas greeting. In the midst of all the chaos in the video, that bit of irony is quite hilarious, probably even more so for those who saw the decade first-hand.
Yankovic would return to this ground in the 90s with the track "The Night Santa Went Crazy", but I prefer this. It's jolly on the outside, but dark on the inside...Then again, aren't most of us that way?
7.) When I'm visiting the relatives I mentioned earlier in the article, my uncle tends to play old holiday standards. I enjoy these standards, but sometimes I want something more upbeat. Unfortunately, my musical tastes run concurrent to my uncle's, so a track like the following probably wouldn't appeal to him.
That track is "Christmas In Hollis" by Run-DMC.
Run-DMC is one of the best rap groups of all time, and they can even give a Christmas song a great groove. The song is basically a hip-hop version of the classic tale "The Night Before Christmas", with the group talking about a Christmas dinner being interrupted by an appearance from Santa Claus.
That reminds me...When I was at work recently, I ran an idea across my Mom of possibly dressing up as Santa Claus when visiting the relatives in order to surprise my youngest cousin. My Mom said that she's probably too young to understand the concept of Santa, but that maybe next year would be a good idea.
It's something to think about...After all, I'm about the right size to play Santa. Time to pick up the walking habit again.
6.) This is another track that may not necessarily be viewed as a Christmas track at first. It does come from the soundtrack to a Christmas-related movie, though. That movie is "Scrooged".
The song? "Put A Little Love In Your Heart" as performed by Al Green and Annie Lennox.
I saw this movie in the late 90s, and the song was used twice...First performed by Frank Cross (Bill Murray) and all his co-stars as he finally rediscovers his Christmas spirit, and later over the credits by Green and Lennox.
The song hit me somehow. I first saw "Scrooged" back in the late 90s, and the song remained with me the most. School was rough for me, but whenever we would have a Christmas party (which we still called it all the way into 2001, when I graduated), all our troubles and issues were set to the side as we relaxed, ate junk food, and watched light-hearted movies...Not titles having to do with what we were reading about, but just fun stuff.
For more talk about "Scrooged", check out my article "Don't Call Me A Poser".
5.) Proof of my ever-growing 80s fandom came in the late 90s when I expressed familiarity with some of the music by 80s pop-rock group The Waitresses.
Well-known for tracks like "I Know What Boys Like" and "Make The Weather", they also delivered one of the best Christmas songs of the 80s with the track "Christmas Wrapping".
It's a wonderful track of love lost and found during the Christmas season, but it isn't mournful. It's bouncy, reflecting the upbeat part of the holiday spirit. I'm talking about being around your loved ones, opening presents, eating some good food, basically being part of something that's a little bigger than yourself.
Although it may not be reflected in the lyrics, that's what I get out of this song. Things can be rough, but as long as you have some form of love in your life, then things aren't as bad as you think they might be.
4.) The next track is a slow number by Ray Charles entitled "The Spirit Of Christmas".
I first heard this track in the movie "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation". The song can be heard when Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase), trapped in the attic while his family goes Christmas shopping, takes some time to watch some home movies from his youth.
As I view the various "Vacation" movies, I get the feeling that the character of Clark isn't really a happy man. He smiles through his tears as he watches film of his younger days, and you get the sense that his youth was probably the last time in life that he felt happy. The 4 "Vacation" movies that Chase starred in show Griswold as someone who has to go insane in order to get things right. It's fun to watch, sure, but it can also be a little odd as you grow older, if only because you may start to see yourself through the prism of characters in the various movies you watch.
Speaking of that, let's head over to number 3.
3.) The song is Beethoven's "Symphony No. 9", better known as "Ode To Joy".
What makes this piece of classical music so Christmasy? Well, it could be the choir, or the strings, but to me, it's Christmasy because of its' usage in one of the greatest Christmas films of the 80s. I speak, of course, about "Die Hard".
This song is heard when Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his fellow "terrorists" finally get to the hundreds of millions of dollars in the vault at Nakatomi Plaza. They're extremely happy with their bounty, and their joy is reflected in this song. Of course, Gruber and crew are anything but choir boys, and John McClane (Bruce Willis) teaches them their lesson, but if you're going to be opening a Christmas present (well, sort of), then this is a great track to do it to.
2.) What I'm talking about next is one of the most interesting Christmas songs ever. The duet is called "Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth", as performed by the improbably combination of Bing Crosby and David Bowie.
Now, Crosby was a dapper and mannered sort of a fellow. He was very clean-cut and mild-mannered. Bowie, on the other hand, has always had a sense of the outrageous about him. Ziggy Stardust, Jareth, working with Nine Inch Nails in the 90s and Sean "Whatever his name is this year" Combs in the 00s...Putting them together may seem odd, but it works. As Crosby sings "The Little Drummer Boy", Bowie sings:
"I pray my wish will come true,
For my child and your child too,
He'll see the day of glory,
See the day when men of good will,
Live in peace, live in peace again.
Peace on Earth, can it be?"
As I listen to it, I get the sense that this song can be seen as a way of Baby Boomers and The Greatest Generation (as Tom Brokaw put it) making peace with each other. So many issues, from musical to political, divided these two groups, but somehow things ended up turning out good once more. Would that we all could make peace with those who have sullied us.
At a recent karaoke session, I was able to do that. In "Don't Call Me A Poser", I made mention of being attacked for my Disney fandom. Well, when I was at karaoke recently, my singing was cheered on, as it usually is, and the biggest bully vis a vis my love of Disney, stated that he enjoyed my singing. We talked, we hugged (in a brotherly way), and over a decade-and-a-half of resentment melted away.
It felt good...I only hope the peace-making will continue as the years wear on.
And now, we arrive at number one.
1.) While many songs on this list are upbeat, my all-time favorite Christmas song is a slow one. The song is "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas".
The song, within its' few minutes, says so much about what Christmas is all about. The joy, the tears, the memories, the good and the bad, the family...Aah, yes, the family. That's what Christmas means to me...I love my family, but I do have issues with them. Still, on December 24th and 25th, these issues are put to the side, and everything is okay.
There are 2 versions I love. First, the version that was originally performed by Judy Garland in the movie "Meet Me In St. Louis", and secondly, the cover that was performed by Frank Sinatra.
These two great singers each bring a different something to it.
Garland's version expresses the mournful side of it. For all the joy Christmas brings, there is an element of sadness as we memorialize our loved ones. We cry, but not just out of sadness, but also out of joy. These people impacted us, and we'll always remember the times we shared with them.
Sinatra's version is more joyful. It showcases how family celebrates the season. Good food, great family, wonderful presents...All of it is reflected in these lyrics:
"Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us,
Gather near to us once more".
There's an interesting divide between Garland and Sinatra's version.
"Someday soon, we all will be together.
If the Fates allow.
Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now".
Sinatra, on the other hand, sang:
"Through the years we all will be together,
If the Fates allow.
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough,
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now".
From day to day during the Christmas season, my preference for each version varies. When my day is going bad, I go with Garland's version, but when I'm having a great day, Sinatra is who I go with.
Christmas is a very interesting time...It brings out the good and bad in people. Somehow, though, from December 24th to December 25th, everything is alright. The "If it bleeds, it leads" philosophy is put to the side and people gather together all over the world to be the decent people they are on the inside, even though they don't always show it.
So, with that, I wish all of you a Merry Christmas, and now the floor is open for discussions:
What are your favorite Christmas songs? Can you connect these songs to memories? Which version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" do you think is better?