“Eve engaged her On Duty sign and stepped out of the car. Immediately her ears were assaulted with a blast of music. Christmas carols pumped, full blast, into the air. She decided that people ran inside, ready to buy anything, just to escape the noise.” –J.D. Robb, Holiday in Death
With so much Christmas music out playing from the radio, inside stores, and everywhere I wander this season, I sometimes find myself way overstimulated. I love Christmas music, but I still retain my preference for good music… okay, at least music I really like. So in the Christmas music spirit, I wanted to share some of my favorites with you.
The versions of these songs I have chosen, the musicians who create and perform them, and all the tradition in the words and melodies mean so much to me during this Christmas season. I categorized them according to classics (5), original songs from the 90’s (2), “The Only Time I Will EVER Say I Like These Songs” (3), some fantastic new originals (3) and cover songs (2), and phenomenal instrumental arrangements that hold great sentimentality for me (2). I threw a few honorable mentions in as well from some of my favorite artists/albums. There are so many I love that narrowing them down to just a few was incredibly difficult!
You may discover ones you already know and love. You may find something new. You may hate some of the picks here, and that’s okay too. I’ll tell you right now, I’m not a huge fan of Mariah Carey’s popular “All I Want for Christmas” or Marilyn Monroe’s “Santa Baby” (Eartha Kitt’s original version is better.). I acknowledge Mariah Carey’s originality with “All I Want For Christmas” and how it’s become such a recognizable song in my generation. Both women are talented vocalists, but I just don’t enjoy how they perform these songs. Perhaps my feelings on this will change someday, but I’m not holding my breath.
That being said, without further ado…
Nat King Cole – “The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You)”
Andy Williams – “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”
Frank Sinatra – “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
Bing Crosby – “White Christmas”
Vince Guaraldi – “Christmas Time Is Here”
(Honorable Mention: “Charlie Brown Christmas Dance“)
The Best 90’s Gems:
Joe Diffie – “Leroy the Redneck Reindeer”
I first heard this song as a little kid, a gift from “the cool aunt” to my family. We laughed through the whole song and had my dad replay it right away! This Mr. Christmas album is a holiday staple in my family, and not a year goes by where we don’t play it during Christmas Eve when we get home from church and open gifts.
(Honorable Mentions: “Wrap Me In Your Love” and “All Because of a Baby Boy“)
Amy Grant – “Grown-Up Christmas List”
As a college friend of mine once said, “It’s not Christmas without a little Amy Grant.”
The Only Time I Will EVER Say I Like These Songs:
Michael Bublé – “All I Want for Christmas Is You”
I never… ever… thought I would like this song. Ever. But it never takes much for Michael Bublé to change my mind. This is the only version of this song that you will ever hear me admit I enjoy. I guess I even surprise myself on occasion.
Relient K – “12 Days of Christmas”
The most upbeat version to this song I’ve ever discovered, and it was sorely needed. Listening to the traditional, longer version go on and on and on is not fun. This is so much better!
Straight No Chaser – “12 Days of Christmas (Original 1998 Live Performance)”
I didn’t stumble upon this until a longtime friend of mine insisted I check this out, and he was so right! Part “12 Days of Christmas”, part musical medley, and a whole lot of fun and entertainment!
The New(er) Creative Originals:
Brandon Heath – “Momma Wouldn’t Lie To Me”
My mom and I first listened to Brandon Heath’s Christmas Is Here last month while driving up to the city for Black Friday shopping (actually in the 5 a.m. hour of Friday). We laughed so much from the opening song, and throughout the album we’d pause our conversation to listen in wonder at great lyrics and his catchy, slightly country-style sound. Truly my favorite new album so far this season.
(Honorable Mentions: “The Day After Thanksgiving” and “Just a Girl“)
Relient K – “Merry Christmas, Here’s To Many More”
Relient K’s Christmas album Let it Snow, Baby Let It Reindeer quickly became a holiday staple in my family’s Christmas music collection. They came out with a number of amazing original songs, but this one is my favorite for very personal reasons. One fairly recent Christmas season past, my spirits were far from high – and hearing these words helped me rediscover the true peace that’s celebrated this time of year.
(Honorable Mentions: “I Celebrate the Day” and “I’m Gettin’ Nuttin’ For Christmas“)
Owl City – “The Christmas Song”
My joy for the music Adam Young of Owl City creates… where do I even begin? My personal journey following Owl City began when Fireflies was released as the iTunes Single of the Week back in 2009. Since then, I’m always stumbling on my favorite songs out of the blue, and “The Christmas Song” is certainly no exception. With his newest releases “Tokyo feat. SEKAI NO OWARI (世界の終わり)” and “You’re Not Alone feat. Britt Nicole“, I can hardly wait to hear the 2015 album!
(Honorable Mention: “Peppermint Winter“)
My Favorite Covers:
Anberlin – “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” [Original Song by U2]
Anberlin has been one of my favorite bands since my brother first introduced their music to me in the early 2000s. If you haven’t seen them perform live, you sadly won’t be able to in the future. Anberlin decided to disband after taking one last tour around the US and the world, finishing out in their home state of Florida at the end of November 2014. Still, a remarkable band, whose discography is well worth giving a listen. Any time they’ve done a cover song, they’ve done the original justice while giving it their own original influence, and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is no exception.
Daniel Jang – “Veni, Veni (O Come O Come Emmanuel)” [Original Arrangement by Mannheim Steamroller]
Another long-time favorite Christmas song of mine, Jang’s performance on violin is a brand new discovery for me, and I absolutely love how talented he is! A new video goes up on his metalsides YouTube Channel every few weeks, and I can’t wait to see what he comes out with next. Definitely an artist to watch from here on out.
The Instrumental Picks:
Máiréad Nesbitt of Celtic Woman – “Carol Of The Bells”
I’m not sure which is more infectious, Máiréad’s always-energetic playing, or how she smiles and dances throughout each and every performance. She’s always a joy to watch.
Mannheim Steamroller – “Traditions of Christmas”
In a sense, I’ve saved the best for last. My oldest memories of music during Christmas always involve traditional hymns at church and beautiful arrangements by Mannheim Steamroller. “Traditions of Christmas” seems to reflect all the joy and peace I feel as Christmas draws near. It’s the break of solitude a midst the frantic rushing, the joyous wonder watching the snow fall, and the quiet imagination when I drift to sleep on Christmas Eve after sharing gifts with my family. It’s all this and so much more, all the fondest memories I remember rolled into one.
(Honorable Mention: “The Holly And The Ivy“)
What Christmas songs are near and dear to you? Or do you disagree with some of my choices and wish to propose a ‘better’ version? Feel free to share with me in the comments!
“Christmas, my child, is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give, it’s Christmas.” –Dale Evans