Our Ten Best- Episode 32: Christmas Songs

cole1For many people the holidays are a time of reflection. As you’re wrapping presents and reminiscing of Christmas’ past, there is the music of the season wafting through the air.  Which brings to mind which one is your favorite? Is there a certain song that just isn’t Christmas until you here it? What’s the song that kept you up waiting for Santa? And was it during this special time that a certain someone made your winter truly special? The following are songs that remind us what it means to love this time of year.

10-“Back Door Santa”

Yes “Back Door Santa” returns to the holiday top ten – this time as a single. This is a fun song that Clarence Carter revels in singing. It’s the players’  anthem for the holiday season.

9-“O Holy Night”

Originally a French poem written in 1847, “O Holy Night” has been the standard in celebrating the true meaning of Christmas. What makes this song stand the test of time is the lyrics. Though rarely recorded the words which include “Chains shall He break For the slave is our brother/And in His name All oppression shall cease” refer to a time fraught with racism and prejudice. Unfortunately the lyrics are as timely as ever. Best covers of this track are: Nat King Cole and Mariah Carey.

8- “Silent Night”

No matter your beliefs there is something about a Christmas carol sung in a language other than your own. In this case “Silent Night” originally written in German brings to mind the traditions of this holiday season. After all it was the Germans who introduced the Christmas trees inside the household along with several other ideas that have been associated with Christmas. Best covers of this track are: Nat King Cole, Mariah Carey and Johnny Mathis.

7- “What Child is This?”

Rarely heard during this season, “What Child is This?” has been around since 1865. Written by William Dix during a dark period in his life this track has held heartfelt meaning for those who are steeped in the religious aspects of Christmas. Best covers of this track are: Vanessa Williams and Sarah McLachlan.

6- “O Tannenbaum”

Another original German Classic “O  Tannenbaum” (“O Christmas Tree”) is a celebration of wintertime. Although it was used during the reign of Hitler to rid the religion out of this holiday, it has withstood that to be associated with the birth of Christ. Best covers of this track have been recorded by Nat King Cole and “A Very Charlie Brown Christmas.”

5- “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

This track written in 1962 as a response to the Cuban Missile Crisis has been covered by nearly every artist. Some have done it justice while others should have left well enough alone. Made famous by Bing Crosby this song has several solid renditions that will have you enjoying the holiday season. Best covers besides Bing Crosby’s are Vanessa Williams, Linda Eder and The Tropical Flavor Steel Drum Band.

4- “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”

A favorite in many households “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is a classic song that takes a lot of effort to be sung badly. It’s amazing that this track has been respectably rendered by several artists. While the origin of this song is disputed, we can safely say that it became popular in the 1830s. The best version to date has been done by Barenaked Ladies featuring Sarah McLachlan. Their rendition features a round arrangement that emphasizes McLachlan’s lyrical voice and is punctuated by the acoustic guitar playing of Barenaked Ladies.

3- “Children Go Where I Send Thee”

This track is one of the best examples of the call/response method in singing. Originally this Negro spiritual was a hymn emphasizing certain tales in the Bible. As the years went on it became another song in the Christmas canon. There have been several renditions that have been respectable, however the best rendition has been done by Peter, Paul and Mary. For many years this song was a staple during pledge drives on your local PBS station. Though it has not been played this holiday season you can still find it on their album A Holiday Celebration.

2- “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy”

“Peace on earth, can it be?” You just might believe it when you hear the voices of Bing Crosby and David Bowie harmonize on this iconic Christmas tune. The lyrics for Bowie’s part were written especially for Bing Crosby’s last Christmas special that aired in 1977. The point/counterpoint method perfectly blended the crooning style of Crosby with Bowie’s no-nonsense vibe (Bowie at the time attempted to showcase a toned down persona. It made for an awkward moment for the two men as they knew little of each other. It was actually Crosby’s childrens’ suggestion to record this track with Bowie). For several years this version was not made available to the public. People hunted down the original version and made bootleg copies from the radio until it started showing up on compilations. There is no better version. “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” by Bowie and Crosby is the only version worthy of mentioning.

1- “The Christmas Song”

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” begins the holiday season. You know it’s Christmas when this song plays. Originally written by Mel Torme and Bob Wells with music by Torme, this holiday staple has defined the holidays for generations. Nat King Cole’s voice defines this classic that makes “tiny tots with their eyes all aglow…find it hard to sleep” whenever they hear it. Though this song has been covered by several artists including his daughter Natalie, it is Nat’s voice that rings in the season. Like the Bowie/Crosby tune, “The Christmas Song” sung by Nat King Cole can’t be done better. It’s the only rendition that one needs to own.

About Donna-Lyn Washington 611 Articles
Donna-lyn Washington has a M.A. in English from Brooklyn College. She is currently teaching at Kingsborough Community College where her love of comics and pop culture play key parts in helping her students move forward in their academic careers. As a senior writer for ReviewFix she has been able to explore a variety of worlds through comics, film and television and has met some interesting writers and artists along the way. Donna-lyn does a weekly podcast reviewing indie comics and has also contributed entries to the 'Encyclopedia of Black Comics,’ the academic anthology ‘Critical Insights: Frank Yerby’ and is the editor for the upcoming book, ‘Conversations With: John Jennings.’

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