It is Christmas Eve. The wine has been uncorked to breathe, the oven is preheating, and Molly the Dog is sleeping by my side as I proof-read this entry, my last post for 2015.
The weather is humid and uncharacteristically warm, so I don’t foresee any snow falling between tonight and tomorrow morning. Either despite that or because of that, I have been in a real “sounds of the seasons” mood. Yesterday, I got home from work and gave a listen to each of the songs in last year’s blog post, The Top Ten Holiday Songs. I might jostle a few of those rankings around, but I still find it to be a good, diverse list. And of course, with so many seasonal songs to choose from, I couldn’t stop at just ten.
Ten More Holiday Songs (with YouTube links):
11) “Veni Veni (O Come O Come Emmanuel)” by Mannheim Steamroller (1988): Haunting, melodic, and original, this Latin rendition of the religious carol “O Come O Come Emmanuel” is Gothic in feel. A miniature orchestra of bells, xylophones, flutes accompanies a mixed chorus, the men of which bear an uncanny vocal resemblance to Gregorian monks. I just gave this version another listen, and it once again sent shivers down my spine. Fun fact: “Veni Veni” is track #3 on Mannheim Steamroller’s album A Fresh Aire Christmas, the second of the New Age group’s three Christmas albums which, according to the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), has sold over six million copies. How very fresh indeed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMe0Fi8OqE8
12) “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” by Thurl Ravenscroft (1966): For years, I thought that James Earl Jones was the vocal talent behind this seminal holiday classic. I only recently learned that the basso profundo belting out such phrases as “nauseous super naus” wasn’t Darth Vader but someone named Thurl Ravenscroft. What kind of name is that anyway?! The verses, which get more creative as the song goes on, are a spot-on tribute to the dark genius of Dr. Seuss, and you can find this song in several holiday movies. My favorite use of the song is in “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” when the screen cuts from the cartoon Grinch smiling his devilish smile while Macaulay Culkin watches “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” in his NYC hotel room to a shot of Tim Curry’s hotel clerk smiling just as deviously upon learning that Culkin’s Kevin McCallister is in possession of stolen credit cards. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFUcLZExzlA
13) “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth” by Bing Crosby and David Bowie (1977): I recently posted a status update on Facebook in which I asked friends to comment on their least favorite holiday songs. At least one person mentioned “The Little Drummer Boy.” It took me many years to gain an appreciation for that song, and I can understand the disdain that some people may have. That being said, Crosby and Bowie teamed up for 1977’s TV special “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas,” and the result is a surprisingly harmonious duet in which Crosby hums the “pa-rum-pa-rum-pum” lyrics of the main chorus while Bowie sings that all-important call for world peace, which was a pipe dream in 1977 and continues to elude us today. The TV special, which Crosby never lived to see, has a real “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”-feel to it, as you’ll see here. (For a more comedic take, I also recommend the Will Ferrell-John C. Reilly version of this lovely medley.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9kfdEyV3RQ
14) “Blue Christmas” by Vince Gill (1998): I hate country music and I love Elvis Presley, so this entry on the list is something of an anomaly – a remake in which the country singer covering the song (Vince Gill) does a better job than the original artist (Elvis himself)! Blasphemy, you say? Give it a listen. The King’s version is blues-ier, sexier, but Vince’s take is sadder and filled with a greater sense of yearning. Bonus points to the video, in which Gill plays one member of a platoon of WWII soldiers that takes shelter for the night in a bombed out Belgian church. As Gill sings, he opens his billfold and reveals a picture of the woman he left behind to enlist in the Great War. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1gnWmDwBvg
15) “Here Comes Santa Claus” by Gene Autry (1947): Gene Autry, The Christmas Cowboy (the name of his 1953 holiday album), recorded dozens of yuletide songs during his 20-year career, but his rendition of “Here Comes Santa Claus” is perhaps his best-known Christmas song, and a holiday staple that appears in seemingly every Christmas movie – most memorably, perhaps, in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” as hapless family man Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase) endures every pratfall known to man while putting together “a good old fashioned family Christmas.” The song, written by Autry himself after he was greeted as Santa Claus while riding his horse in the Hollywood Christmas Parade, has endured for years, but it and the movie are now inseparable! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5uiuW9TAuM
16) “The Hanukah Song” by Adam Sandler (1995): The SNL alumnus and oft-overpaid star of countless movie comedies is an acquired taste for some, but even for someone like myself who isn’t a fan of his acting, it’s hard to listen to “The Hanukah Song” (by any spelling) without breaking into a smile. “So when you feel like the only kid in town/Without a Christmas tree/Here’s a list a people who are Jewish/Just like you and me.” David Lee Roth…James Caan…Kirk Douglas…Dinah Shore…and so it begins. Sandler has now penned at least four versions of this song, although I believe that the original is still the best. The fan video mash-up is a hoot! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDV_reO930A
17) “Donde Esta Santa Claus?” by Augie Rios (1958): I have asked around, and found myself surprised to learn that few friends have even heard of this charming holiday song, let alone remember it as fondly as I do. The 12-year-old Rios had a smash hit in 1958 with his honest plea, “Mamacita, where is Santa Claus? It’s Christmas Eve.” The song was something of a one-hit wonder, and the .45 record single’s B-side, “Ol’ Fatso (I Don’t Care Who You Are Old Fatso, Get Those Reindeer Off My Roof),” didn’t receive nearly as much radio airplay. As for “Mamacita” (as I call it), Rios’s seminal Spanglish ditty is a song that always brings a smile to my face. “Oh Pancho! Oh Vixen! Oh Pedro! Oh Blitzen! Ole! Ole! Ole! (Cha cha cha!)” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mK77rxuXK5s
18) “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton (2004): This Rod Stewart/Dolly Parton duet, featured on Stewart’s Stardust: The Great American Songbook, Vol. III album, is the best version out of many. (Others to cover it include Redbone/Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Lady Gaga, if you were wondering.) I was discussing this song with a Facebook friend recently, and she bemoaned, half-jokingly and half-seriously, that the song was about roofies and date rape. But ultimately, the playful, hint-hint, wink-wink, nudge-nudge banter between Stewart, who tries to convince Parton to stay the night, and Parton, whose resistance to Stewart’s pleas slowly weakens, is more charming than anything else. But if it is double entendres that you are looking for, this song has them in spades. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9frFggnz4P0
19) “Mary, Did You Know?” by Pentatonix (2014): The newest cover on this list, by viral YouTube sensation Pentatonix (“PTX” for short), this a capella rendition of the religious carol “Mary, Did You Know?” is a vibrant interpretation of a song that some people find rather dull. I am not a believer myself, but I do understand the historical meaning behind Christmas, and if you believe the story of the virgin birth, then you’ll be hard-pressed to deny that these lyrics get the story straight. As for the music video itself, it was fun to see the faces behind those voices and learn, for example, that the highest voices were not necessarily female. Speaking of the video, here’s a fun fact: the cave in the video – which I have actually visited – was the original Batcave from the Adam West-Burt Ward 1960’s TV cheese-fest. Holy pop culture connection, Batman! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifCWN5pJGIE
20) “Same Auld Lang Syne” by Dan Folgelberg (1980): Although technically a New Year’s Eve song and not a Christmas song, it only gets radio airplay between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I’ve included it on my list. In the song, Dan Fogelberg sings about a chance run-in with an ex-girlfriend from years ago – the one that got away, perhaps. They huddle in her car with a six-pack of beer and drink to better times. “We drank a toast to innocence/We drank a toast to now/And tried to reach behind the emptiness/But neither one knew how.” Ouch. But who among us hasn’t been there? The song has that reek of early 80’s Peter Cetera or Phil Collins (with a saxophone solo to boot!), but it is a sentimental favorite that contains more truth in this number than arguably any other song on my list. The final verse is bittersweet: “Just for a moment I was back in school/And felt that old familiar pain/And as I turned to make my way back home/The snow turned into rain.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmVXYOJzAJM
Thanks for reading. I’ll see you in 2016. Merry Christm-Hanu-Kwanzaa-Festivus!