Saturday, December 3, 2011

December Fools! The real Friday Faves #4 - Favorite Christmas songs

I was just kidding yesterday. I was cracking myself up with the idea of someone just loving Little Drummer Boy and all the possible variations on it. According to Wikipedia (pardon my usage of Wikipedia), there are over 220 recorded versions of Little Drummer Boy. I honestly do like the Jars of Clay variation. That was nicely done. Justin Bieber's version was downright horrible as was The Almost. I can't believe that someone somewhere - whether it be Biebs himself, his agent, the song's producer, someone - didn't speak up and say "Biebs, this song is a really, really bad idea".

I like Johnny Cash but his version wasn't very good either. Outside of Jars of Clay, I would likely never deliberately listen to any of the ones I included yesterday. All in good fun.

Today I have my actual favorite Christmas songs. I hope you find them more enjoyable.

#1 Gabriel's Message by Sting. I first heard this as a kid and it took me forever to get a copy of it. Even now, the album that has this song, the Very Special Christmas album, released in 1987, is sold at full price whenever you find it at stores. Sort of ridiculous if you ask me. Thank goodness for the ability to buy single songs digitally now.

#2 Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy by David Bowie and Bing Crosby - I actually do like The Little Drummer Boy a lot and I really enjoy this version by two greats.

#3 O Holy Night by Johnny Mathis - This song epitomized Christmas for me, more than any other song. My folks would play it every Christmas. It's well done, it captures the spirit of Christmas, and I think Johnny Mathis is greatly underappreciated here in the 21st century.

#4 Hallelujah Chorus by the Opera Company of Philadelphia et al - There's a lot better renditions than this one and I really don't like it being done with a pipe organ normally (I think singing Christmas songs in church is too stuffy and I associate pipe organs with singing in church), but this was just an awesome effort organized as part of the Knight Foundation's Random Acts of Culture. I would have loved to have caught it live instead of just hearing about it.

#5 Carol of the Bells by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir - It was tempting to make this song an honorable mention for two reasons. One, it's really hard to find a good rendition of it. It's too easy for the lyrics of this song to get muddled because of instrumentation and choir size (as well as overestimating your middle school choir's ability). Two, it's a really short song. I love it, though, and I do like this particular recorded version as opposed to others by the MTC. I think a lot of their live versions have that muddling. The instrumentation here is nice and the lyrics stay somewhat crisp.

Honorable mention:
This Christmas by Yutaka - The first Christmas album I bought as an "adult" was A GRP Christmas Collection. I immediately liked this song as a then-modern song that captured the holiday season unlike, say, songs like Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. It was refreshing to hear something other than the Christmas classics that still epitomized the Christmas spirit a bit.

Happy Holidays by Andy Williams - You have no idea how many Christmas songs were disqualified from consideration on this list because I played the bejeezus out of them as a saxamaphonist. Especially in high school where I had rehearsal every day, it got really tiring playing the same song over and over and over and over in preparation for concerts.

One song, this song, was an exception. I played this as part of the University of Pittsburgh's Marching Band. We only rehearsed it for a week or two since we only performed it for the last football game of the season. Even that was miserable, though. We practiced at night and night time in a football stadium in Pittsburgh in November is never a fun time.

What made things worse, though, was that the assistant band director, Dave Moi, got to "produce" this song, the only song he got to do over the course of the season. He took it WAAAAAAY too seriously and pretty much angered all of us. We'd do the regular show in the freezing cold, be ready to go back home, to the dorms, or really anywhere, and then Dave would get to take the reins and grind us into the ground for what seemed like another seventeen hours.

During the song, parts of the band were to stop playing and actually start singing "Happy holidays" with another part of the band responding like Andy Williams does with his chorus in this recording. After a few rehearsals, the response to "Happy holidays" was "Dave Moi's an ass". Even now when I hear this in a store or something, I'll respond to Andy Williams with "Dave Moi's an ass". Totally in the Christmas spirit.

Last Month of the Year by The Kingston Trio - The particular recording I have below is poorly done but it's the only one I can find. My folks wore out this record at Christmas time and I really didn't care for the Kingston Trio except for this song.

Having put together this list, I'm not entirely sure it's better than a whole lot of versions of Little Drummer Boy but when Christmas comes around, these are the songs I think of and want to hear.

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