Well, here we are... two weeks, one day, until Christmas. The Christmas Season, as we know it, is nearly half over, and I have been listening to my fair share of holiday music. I have been thinking long and hard, and have decided to do a couple of different lists.
FIRST, I am going to list my TOP 10 FAVORITE CHRISTMAS SONGS. This will be a list specifically of individual songs.
SECOND, I am going to list my TOP 10 FAVORITE CHRISTMAS ALBUMS. Please note that some of the songs on these albums would actually be considered some of my favorite Christmas songs, but since they are part of a COMPLETE work of art, I am just going to consider them under this list. I will explain in more detail, as I do the lists.
I will also list some of my LEAST FAVORITE CHRISTMAS SONGS/ALBUMS.
And now, on to the lists...
TOP 10 FAVORITE CHRISTMAS SONGS:
10. THE BLUE HAWAIIANS: "WE FOUR KINGS"
This is a great instrumental rendition of "We Three Kings", as performed by The Blue Hawaiians, who are a Surf Rock outfit from... well... Hawaii. It features some great Surf guitar.
9. GEORGE WINSTON: "SOME CHILDREN SEE HIM"
A beautiful instrumental, solo piano piece, taken from a classic album, "DECEMBER"
8. CHRIS REA: "DRIVING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS"
A wonderful holiday song, from the great British Rock star. Has a nice "driving" feel to it. Go figure.
7. WHAM!: "LAST CHRISTMAS" (The Pudding Mix)
This remix of the only WHAM! holiday song, is one of my favorites. There is not much that differentiates this version from the single version, except for a longer intro.
6. MERCYME: "CHRISTMAS TIME IS HERE"/"WHAT CHILD IS THIS?" (tie)
I couldn't decide which song to include, as I love them both. Maybe "WHAT CHILD IS THIS?" should have been the pick, as the other track appears on their full length Christmas album, which is one of my top 10 favorites. The think I love particularly about this tune, originally done by Vince Guaraldi, on the Charlie Brown Christmas CD, is the trumpet solo incorporated into the MercyMe version. Very tasty.
5. DONNY OSMOND: "AFTER DECEMBER SLIPS AWAY"
I first heard this moving song on the Donny Osmond Christmas album, from early in the decade. I have since tracked down the original version, written and performed by Christian artists, FIRST CALL. I prefer this version, but must give FIRST CALL credit for the beautiful song. The thing that I truly love about the song, is how it really brings to light the meaning behind the holiday.
4. ANUNA: "WINTER, FIRE AND SNOW"
This incredibly beautiful song appeared on a Various Artists compilation, released by Atlantic Records, back in the mid-90's. The album was called, "Winter, Fire and Snow", and featured a diverse group of artists, mainly from the "World Music" genre. Featured were LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO, with ANDREAS VOLLENWEIDER, CLANNAD, ROBBY ROBERTSON, JEWEL, JULIA FORDHAM, JANE SIBERRY, among others. Anuna is best knows as the Celtic choral group, featured in the original "RIVERDANCE" production. Members of this incredible choir have gone on to perform with "Celtic Woman", as well as other groups. This song is haunting, beautiful, and one of my all time favorite Holiday songs.
3. WENDY & LISA w/ SEAL: "THE CLOSING OF THE YEAR" (EXT. MIX)
This song was featured in the opening sequence of the movie, TOYS. It features WENDY & LISA, formerly of Prince's REVOLUTION. The very rare extended mix features vocals from SEAL. I have only ever found this particular song on a "promotional" CD single. A very important part of my holiday music collection.
2. BAND AID: "DO THEY KNOW IT'S CHRISTMAS" (12" MIX)
Another extremely rare song, this song is an important part of my Christmas music collection. Originally recorded in November, 1984 (and subsequently released within a week's time), this song was intended as a charitable fund raiser, to help bring relief to the starving people of Ethiopia. The song was penned by BOB GELDOF, of THE BOOMTOWN RATS, and MIDGE URE of ULTRAVOX. This rare 12" mix features spoken introductions, and statements, by many of the participating artists. Bono, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Holly Johnson (of Frankie Goes To Hollywood), Bananarama and Paul Weller, were several of the artists contributing to this extended mix. The only CD copy of this song that I have ever seen, was a 3" Japanese pressing. I have since sold my original copy (it sold for nearly $70.00, if I recall correctly), but have it on multiple CD compilations.
1. MANNHEIM STEAMROLLER: STILLE NACHT
Using the traditional German title, this version of SILENT NIGHT originally appeared on the first Mannheim Steamroller Christmas CD, back in 1984. There is something about this arrangement that darned near moves me to tears. It is absolutely beautiful, especially the solo violin. It's too bad that things took a turn for the worse, for Mannheim Steamroller... stay tuned to find out why!
AMY GRANT and SANDI PATTI: "IT CAME UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR/O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM"
THE WAITRESSES: "CHRISTMAS WRAPPING"
DAN FOGELBERG: "AULD LANG SYNE"
PHIL KEAGGY/KIM HILL: "GOD REST YE MERRY, GENTLEMEN"
TOP 10 (or 13) CHRISTMAS ALBUMS (in NO particular order)
***(A late entry)***
0. SUFJAN STEVENS: CHRISTMAS E.P. BOX SET
(This baby gets a spotlight of it's own.) Sufjan Stevens, the eclectic Indie singer/songwriter is not one to follow conventional rules. For starters, his fans know of his desire to write an album for every state in the union. "Cum On Feel The Illinois" is a classic, and there have been a few others taken care of, but for me... well, I'm still waiting for Utah's turn. Anyhow, for several years, Sufjan was kind enough to release a Christmas E.P., for his fans. A couple years ago, he released a box set, featuring all the E.P.s. The best part of this set, apart from the great artwork, is that it is complete with a lyric sheet, including guitar chords for each and every song. Not to mention, his take on all the standards is COMPLETELY fresh. You don't hear much banjo in Christmas music, do ya'? Well, you DO with Sufjan. If you haven't gotten this set, pick it up. It's well worth the twenty bones...
Okay, now onto the rest of the pack!
1. JETHRO TULL: "THE JETHRO TULL CHRISTMAS ALBUM"
2. HALL & OATES: "HOME FOR CHRISTMAS"
3. MERCYME: "THE CHRISTMAS SESSIONS"
4. BARENAKED LADIES: "BARENAKED FOR THE HOLIDAYS"
5. SARAH MCLACHLAN: "WINTERSONG"
6. JARS OF CLAY: "CHRISTMAS"
7. THE CAMBRIDGE SINGERS: "CHRISTMAS W/ THE CAMBRIDGE SINGERS"
8. THE ROCHES: "WE THREE KINGS"
9. MANNHEIM STEAMROLLER: "CHRISTMAS"/"A FRESH AIRE CHRISTMAS"
10. ANUNA: "WINTER SONGS"
11. JOHN DENVER and THE MUPPETS: "A CHRISTMAS TOGETHER"
12. THE CARPENTERS: "CHRISTMAS COLLECTION" 2 CD set
13. MICHAEL FRANKS: "WATCHING THE SNOW"
Now, I must interject this comment about the MICHAEL FRANKS disc. I have two subscribers to this blog, and I am going to address this comment to one of those subscribers. Kate, if you don't have the Michael Franks disc, your holidays are NOT complete. I do not know an album that would wrap up your holiday listening, more than this one... with the exception of "Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics". The Michael Franks songs are more observances of the weather, and the holiday festivities, and ALL about Jazz. Jazz that YOU like. Jazz that I like. So there... if that isn't enough to talk you into getting it... then, well... never mind!
"Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics"
Donny Osmond: "Home For Christmas"
Jewel: "Joy: A Holiday Collection"
Bruce Cockburn: "Christmas"
The Blind Boys of Alabama: "Go Tell It On The Mountain"
a SPECIAL mention for "THE DECEMBER PEOPLE". This interesting collection, featuring many big players in the world or Progressive Rock, features many great Christmas songs, arranged to sound like many of your favorite Prog. Rock songs. There are songs that sound like YES, PINK FLOYD, PETER GABRIEL, among others. It's quite an original sounding album, and definitely one of the most creative takes on traditional Christmas songs...
...and, last but not least...any and ALL Amy Grant Christmas discs...
AND NOW FOR THE WORST CHRISTMAS ALBUM MOMENTS!!
1. MANNHEIM STEAMROLLER: Christmas Albums 3 to 2,763.
Okay, so I exaggerated on the amount of albums, but suffice it to say... ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!! There are very few redeeming moments on any of the latter Steamroller Christmas albums... and I'm embarrased to say I actually own a couple of them. But only because I found them for $2.00, and I couldn't make my money back IF I tried to sell them.
2. CARLY SIMON: "CHRISTMAS IS ALMOST HERE"
I don't know if it is just her voice on this project, but I struggle to make it through. It literally TESTS my patience. And Christmas albums shouldn't be that way.
3. NEIL DIAMOND: Any and ALL Christmas albums.
His voice was not meant for music of the holidays. Whichever holiday you celebrate. Now, don't get me wrong. I love old Neil. I even like his last two albums. But Christmas songs? Sorry, they don't work for me...
4. KENNY G.: Any and ALL Christmas albums.
I just got sick and tired of Kenny's watered down version of "Smooth Jazz" (don't get me wrong, I loved the guy in his early days), and him jumping on any bandwagon that came along. Nothing original about it.
5. WILLIE NELSON: PRETTY PAPER
Now, I must tell you, this is ONLY on this list, because of the attitude I had about it, back in the 1980's. I hated ALL things Country, and I hated his voice. Now I love Alt. Country, Americana, Bluegrass, etc., and I absolutely LOVE Willie. I want to get this album now. It may end up on my Top 10 list. But for now, because of the countless listens, while preparing pizza pies at The Pizza Factory, during the winter of 1985, I just feel obligated to have it on the list.
Anyhow, that sums up my Holiday tastes, as of today... December 10, 2008. I'm sure I neglected to mention some of my favorites. And maybe I'll add them in at a later date. Regardless, I always look forward to the wonderful Holiday music that I get to listen to, each year. It's always a test of my patience, waiting until Thanksgiving, to listen to the music. Yeah, it's gotta be Thanksgiving before I break into them. I do have standards. So, with these songs, artists and albums in mind, leave a comment telling me what Holiday music YOU love... and a Happy Holidays for one and all!