My perfect Christmas album. December 29, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: best Christmas carols, best Christmas music, best Christmas songs, Christmas carols, Christmas songs, favorite Christmas music
Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I love Christmas music. (Though even Ben is starting to turn a little green when I reach for yet another CD, now that we’ve heard it nonstop since the first Sunday of Advent.) We have an extensive Christmas CD collection, and try to add at least one new CD every year (usually that “one” mysteriously multiplies into two or even three). But of course, no single CD is perfect; they all manage to leave out some of our favorites, or throw in songs we despise. And of course, some interpretations are better than others.
This morning, I found myself wondering what I’d include if I could compile my own all-time favorite Christmas CD. Given that there are probably 65,000* Christmas CDs/albums already, with more coming out each year, there are obviously plenty of songs and versions I’ve missed. (Our collection only extends to 27 CDs… so far.) For now, however, here are my choices, in no particular order, except for the first and last:
O Come, O Come Emmanuel. This Advent song expresses our longing for the Lord, and is beautiful, rousing, and singable (three great virtues, in my view). The only recorded version I have is by the Carpenters, and much as I love their Christmas CD, I don’t think they do this one justice. But at least they included it.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. My favorite secular Christmas song. I have several favorite versions, including Amy Grant’s, Karen Carpenter’s, and Bing Crosby’s. Hang your shining star upon the highest bough!
White Christmas. I hate the snow but love the song. There are many great versions of this one, but I’d have to go with Bing Crosby’s, since he’s the man who made the song an enduring Christmas favorite. He recorded several variations; I love the one where he whistles.
Do You Hear What I Hear? Susan Boyle’s duet with Amber Stassi reminds me how much I enjoy this delightful carol.
The Little Drummer Boy. This is one of those Christmas songs you either love or hate, and I happen to love it. Ellen Reid of the Crash Test Dummies does a great rendition, as do Josh Groban and Charlotte Church.
Toyland. To me, this is the “Over the Rainbow” of Christmas songs. It brings the magic of Christmas alive for children, transporting them to a safe, soothing world of wonder and delight. (Unlike, say, the scary, unfathomable “Nutcracker Suite,” which all children are supposed to love. Ha!) Sadly, OFB and I have no recording of this at all; my memory of it is as a Christmas lullaby, sung by my beloved mama.
Silver Bells. Unlike “Jingle Bells,” which we enjoy (as long as it’s not rushed through) but don’t love, “Silver Bells” is one of our favorites. We don’t have nearly as many versions as we’d like, so we’re guessing it tends to be overlooked, but we do have nice interpretations by Bing Crosby (aka Der Bingle) and Karen Carpenter.
Coventry Carol (Lully, Lullay). This beloved 16th-century lullaby to the Christ Child sweetly captures the tenderness of the Virgin’s (and every mother’s) love for her child. Chanticleer sings it as it would have been performed at the time it was written, and Charlotte Church sings a lovely rendition.
Baby, It’s Cold Outside. James Taylor and Natalie Cole’s riff on this classic may be the most enjoyable—and certainly the most adorable—Christmas song ever. They’re perfect together! Listening to the byplay between them on this song makes OFB laugh out loud every time.
Cold December Night. This song by Michael Buble totally captivated me. It’s so bouncy and upbeat I dare you not to sing along! Thanks, Michael, for adding to our Christmas canon!
What Child Is This? It may strike some as blasphemous that this beautiful hymn is sung to the tune of “Greensleeves,” supposedly composed by King Henry VIII for his lady-love, Anne Boleyn. But we think it’s a great use of a good tune. Josh Groban and Charlotte Church both sing this beautifully, and Andrea Bocelli does a beautiful duet of it with Mary J. Blige.
O Holy Night. Susan Boyle gives a rousing rendition of this beloved carol, and it soars in Charlotte Church’s rendition.
The Huron Carol. I have two favorite versions of this exquisite Native American interpretation of the first Christmas, written by St. Jean de Brebeuf, Patron Saint of Canada, to a traditional Huron melody: Rob Yoder’s on “An Evening of Christmas Music with Daybreak and Friends” and Ellen Reid’s on the Crash Test Dummies’ “Jingle All the Way.” Both have such beautiful voices, I can’t help wishing I could hear them perform the carol together.
Silent Night. Another favorite with many superb versions, the first Christmas carol I ever performed solo. (It may also have been the last.) If I could only choose one, it’s hard to resist Andrea Bocelli’s gorgeous voice on this one.
Sound of the Tambourine. I wish this joyous Christmas song by Emily Cole (also on the Daybreak CD) were better known; to hear it is to love it, and to want to sing it every Christmas.
Once in Royal David’s City. This is a favorite English carol that I think is too seldom heard outside Britain and the Anglican/Episcopal communion. Both the original hymn (if you haven’t heard it, check out the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge’s traditional version) and Ian Anderson’s classic Jethro Tull modernization (“A Christmas Song”) are favorites here.
Gabriel’s Message. This is another traditional British carol, and a majestic one, but it’s so little known outside Britain that we’d never even heard it until we stumbled on wonderful versions by Sting and by Charlotte Church. Well worth discovering!
Soul Cake. Speaking of Sting, his rousing interpretation of an original song by Peter, Paul and Mary beats “Here We Come a Wassailing” by a mile. Fun and irresistible! But do try to resist the urge to start knocking on all the neighbors’ doors requesting cake, drink, and money. They’re just not used to that.
The Wexford Carol. If you haven’t heard this traditional Irish carol, please try to find it. It will make your heart soar! Celtic Woman’s rendition on “A Christmas Celebration” is ethereal, and we love Loreena McKennitt’s version, too.
Carol of the Bells. Here’s another carol I seldom hear, but I love it because of the beautiful tune (originally a Ukrainian celebration of the arrival of the new year). We only have two versions, a suitably upbeat one by Celtic Woman and a nice instrumental by the Carpenters.
Ring Out Solstice Bells. Ian Anderson’s celebration of the winter solstice may not bring to mind Druids and Stonehenge, but it definitely takes you back. If you haven’t discovered “The Jethro Tull Christmas Album,” check it out; it’s full of great music. Like the Crash Test Dummies’ “Jingle All the Way…” and Sting’s “If on a Winter’s Night…,” it might not be the first Christmas album that springs to mind, but all three are wonderful, if unconventional. (Tull’s is a rousing good time, Sting’s is sometimes dark and morbid, and Crash Test Dummies’ ranges from stunning to downright scary, as in Brad Roberts’ version of “Jingle Bells.” Priceless!)
O Come All Ye Faithful. A rousing rallying cry to the faithful on Christmas Day. We can never resist its heart-lifting tones, or resist singing along. As with most of the great hymns, there are many beautiful renditions, so I’ll just mention that Josh Groban’s is one of our favorites.
Ave Maria. There are many gorgeous versions of this quintessential hymn of the Annunciation. But I think most beautiful of all—most beautiful of all the songs of Christmas—is Charlotte Church’s performance of the “Ave Maria in A Minor” by Giulio Caccini on “Voice of an Angel.” You don’t want to know how often I’ve tried to sing it myself (when, of course, OFB was out)! Our poor pets are probably suicidal.
Feliz Navidad. My favorite version of this delightfully upbeat carol (so far) is Michael Buble’s duet with Thalia. Another one you just can’t resist joining in on!
The Fallow Way. This is not a Christmas but a winter song, which celebrates the gifts of winter, yet prepares us for the blessings of the coming spring. Written and performed by Judy Collins, it is my favorite of all her songs, and believe me, it has plenty of competition. She invites us to rest in the stillness of the season, while, like the black earth, dreaming of violets. As “Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel” seems to me to be the perfect beginning to a Christmas album, “The Fallow Way” seems to me the perfect ending.
There! I’ve sifted and sorted, and come up with the Christmas album I wish I had. The one that, if I could just sing well enough, I wish I’d made. What’s yours?
‘Til next time,
* This is just a guess; I tried, but failed, to find the actual number of Christmas albums.