Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Songs Ranked

The year is getting gone in a hurry - less than a week to Christmas, 2 weeks to the new year - things are getting away from me. well - last week should have been a Band of the Month week - but no Band of the Month was forthcoming! and now I am sorry to say, nothing is coming this week, either. Instead - let us celebrate the season! or something like that. A simple enough pair of lists: first - my favorite Christmas carols, because - why not? who doesn't love Christmas carols? And second - my favorite performances of Christmas songs - because - again - why not? They have to be different though because these are different sets of things. Christmas carols are there to be sung - best in a group - in the cold maybe, but anywhere - in the living room, in church, on the sidewalk, in a bar, in your car - who cares? Christmas carols, I admit, are the one thing that make me like going to church - to hear them, better to sing them - they are something I enjoy without reserve. And so - let's do this:

Christmas Carols, judged as much by the fun of singing them as by the song:

1. Silent Night - simple, clean and precise, sentimental, but honest, if you are going to sing about christmas, you can't do better
2. O Come All Ye Faithful - rousing lovely old fashioned Christmas song, a joy to hear and sing.
3. Come Thou Long Expected Jesus - with the Rowland Pritchard tune, it is a very beautiful and enjoyable song
4. Joy to the World - the finale to every christmas pageant ever, and so it should be: a rousing exuberant triumph. Handel! And such fun to bellow out before you get your presents and candy!
5. What Child is This (Greensleeves) - this song tends to baffle the amateur singers, probably because the words put to it are something of a tangle - but it is such a beautiful and classic melody, that I can't resist it.
6. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - lots of these songs are in moonier keys, at least part of the way through - why is that? This one is fun to sing, and when I was a wean, it was fun to play on the trumpet, the only instrument I ever managed to fight to a draw. I have great nostalgia for that, and sometimes even now have been known to give it a shot again...
7. Hark the Herald Angels Sing - another very happy one, fun to bellow out in groups, in the cold; and of course there is Linus...
8. Angels We Have Heard on High - lovely French Carol, with those great glorias, though they are not quite singable by those of us who are not exactly singers. But they are fun to try, and this is such a pretty song...
9. We Three Kings - cool melody; see below.
10. Away in a Manger - you have to sing it every Christmas; it is schmaltzy where Silent Night is sentimental - never quite convincing, but it's still something you have to do around Christmas; and it is a fine song for singing. Hard to make it sound bad.

And now, five christmas songs, performed. You will note that these are not carols - they are mostly secular. There are reasons - mostly that this depends on recordings, and recordings are new... But also because Carols are experienced mainly by being sung - these are more about listening.

1. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Judy Garland: another melancholy christmas song - one of the most melancholy of them all. A beautiful song, from a beautiful movie - one of those movies where the date of release probably tells you more about it than the story or the setting. Gets 1944 better than a lot of songs explicitly about the war... we'll have to muddle through somehow...

2. We Free Kings - Rahsaan Roland Kirk - this is just thrilling.

3. Silver Bells - Der Bingle (with Carol Richards) - I grew up on this LP, Bing's Merry Christmas LP - like every other household in America (or 14,999,999 other households, anyway.) There are many good songs on that record, which we listen to every Christmas, and I listened to every Christmas on my own when I appropriated the thing from my mother (since I still had a record player in my living room, and they did not.) And still do on old iTunes, and would on LP if I had the energy to hook up the turntable again. Yes. well. All those great songs - and Der Bingle's voice - but this, I think, might be the prettiest, the nicest arrangement.

4. The Little Drummer Boy - Bing Crosby and David Bowie - might have started as one of those attempts at bridging the old and new, making some old timer hip, some youngster serious - but the results... It is a lovely song, Bowie's part countering the Little Drummer Boy - but part of the joy of it is the surprise in seeing one of the things come so right.

5. The Christmas Song - Jack Teagarden - I had this on some compilation - still do, actually - but of all the versions of this song (a hell of a song, too), this is my favorite. Jack's cool, drawling delivery just kills it.

That will do. Happy Holidays, people.

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