Sunday, December 12, 2010

Step Into Christmas -- My Favorite Holiday Music

In the words of Tom Petty, "It's Christmas time...again." That means it's time to break out the fake tree, outdoor lights, chipped porcelain Nativity sets, and the bowls of M & Ms and miniature Reese's. It also means it's time to program the iPod.

And prepare for supermarket/shopping mall/department store sound systems.

Every year, it's my tradition to get at least two new Christmas CDs. I've been collecting since my early 20s, and have amassed a holiday library of over 100 Christmas albums. There's so much variety in Christmas music out there, and it seems that every major artist (even Bob Dylan) has put out a Christmas release.

So, here are my Christmas favorites. I'm sure you'll be familiar with some, but hopefully you'll find a nugget or two to add to your collection this year.

Christmas Songs

1. Father Christmas -- The Kinks (1977)

"Father Christmas give us some money/We ain't got time for no silly toys!" Rock N' Roll rebellion at Christmas time has never sounded so violent, or funny, as Ray Davies tells his story of a Christmas-loving guy who gets mugged during the holiday season one night while dressed as Ol' Saint Nick. The chorus is infectious, and the guitar lick as sweet as cookies on Christmas Eve.

2. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) -- U2 (1987)

This is a cover of the Darlene Love classic from 1963, recorded by U2 for the A Very Special Christmas charity album in 1987. Bono's passion over the chorus is as invigorating as Adam Clayton's powerful drum fills.

3. Santa Claus is Coming to Town -- Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (1985)

Originally Bruce and the E Street Band recorded this song live in 1975, but it didn't see the light of day until 1985 on the children's album In Harmony 2: A Sesame Street Record. There are few songs as rousing as this one, when done by the Boss -- the bridge alone ("Better be good for goodness sake") is worth the price of a listen.

4. Christmas at Ground Zero -- 'Weird' Al Yankovic (1986)

Simply the greatest post-apocalyptic Christmas song of all-time. Al's irresistible lyrics make it one of the songs I look most forward to every year. "I'll duck and cover/ with my Yuletide lover/ underneath the 'missle'-toe."

5. Christmas in Heaven -- Monty Python (1983)

In their film The Meaning of Life, the boys from Monty Python, took a look at what Heaven might be like after you die and realized that everything's so good that "It's Christmas in Heaven/ Hip hip hip hip hip hooray/ Every single day/ It's Christmas day." We also learn that The Sound of Music shows twice and hour as well as Jaws 1, 2, and 3. Oh, man, now I can't wait to die!

6. You Gotta Get Up (Christmas Song) -- Rich Mullins (1993)

A beautiful melody from one of Christian music's most inspired songwriters. Here he makes Christmas sound like it felt when we were kids, unable to sleep, hearing reindeer, and thinking endlessly about what awaited under that tree. I get choked up when I hear this one, as Christmas morning accounts for so many of the good memories I have as a child, and with my own children.

7. Wizards in Winter -- The Trans-Siberian Orchestra (2004)

One of the more recent Christmas songs on this list, and one of the best. It's a part of a rock opera, 2004's The Lost Christmas Eve, which is about an angel on a mission from God to find a person most like the image of Christ. Regardless of the song's story, the music is an outstanding rock instrumental. The take on Tchaikovsky in the middle is daring and exciting.

8. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas -- Judy Garland (1944)

Featured in the musical, Meet Me In St. Louis, this is one of Garland's finest moments, and -- for me, at least -- one of the great moments in film history. It's hard to separate the song from the imagery of Garland's Esther singing it to her kid sister, Tootie, who is devastated by news their family will be moving. If you haven't seen St. Louis, it should be a must this year, and if you have, you're no doubt nodding your head in agreement for my selection of this song.

9. Step Into Christmas -- Elton John (1973)

Released at the height of Elton's early years, Step Into Christmas is a must-have in everyone's library. Elton's melody is fun, light, and captures the essence of the season. It's also incredibly hummable.

10. River -- Joni Mitchell (1971)

Maybe the most depressing Christmas song ever recorded, but also one of Joni Mitchell's finest pieces. She takes Jingle Bells and turns it into a melody more lovely than the carol was ever intended to be. Christmas is a time of the year lots of people struggle with, from finances to family issues, and Mitchell offers us a beautiful refrain that speaks more to our hearts than "chestnuts roasting on an open fire." "I wish I had a river I could skate away on," she sings, and I think we all can relate from time-to-time.

Here are some other favorites:

Back Door Santa -- B.B. King (2001)
Peace on Earth -- U2 (2000)
Christmas in Hollis -- Run DMC (1987)
Winter Wonderland -- Diana Krall (2005)
Santa's Got an Airplane -- The Beach Boys (1977)
Christmas Tree On Fire -- Holly Golightly (2006)
Merry Christmas Baby -- Charles Brown (1961)
Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto -- James Brown (1995)
Santa Drives a Hot Rod -- The Brian Setzer Orchestra (2005)
Wishlist -- Pearl Jam (1995)
O Holy Night  -- Peter Kater (1987)

So, what are your favorite Christmas songs? 'Tis the time of the year to share!

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