Thursday, December 23, 2010

10 FAVORITES (16) - Holidays PART III: Traditional Christmas Carols

Christmas time is here! And to follow my favorite Christmas films and my favorite Christmas TV specials, I feel it is time to devote 10 FAVORITES to the best Christmas Carols. Now, it being Christmas, there are a lot of religious overtones that seep into the holiday traditions. So, rather than run from the religious part of the holiday, I shall embrace it for next week's list. I will devote two week's worth of 10 FAVORITES to Christmas Carols: next week will be religious themed ones, while this week I will focus on traditional ones (that may or may not have a Christian background). Of the latter, there are several which come to mind as potential favorites. But, alas, I had to whittle the list down to ten (sort of!). Here they are:


A TRIPLE TIE - Frosty the Snowman AND Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer AND Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
These three songs do go together for me as they also share their titles with the successful Rankin & Bass animation specials from the late 1960's (of which I spoke about last week!). I loved hearing these songs growing up because they reminded me of the specials I adored.

The Chipmunk Song
Sure, this song can be extremely annoying, especially if you don't like the high-pitched voices of the titular characters. But this song does have remarkable staying power. We always remember that the Chipmunks, like any other child, want Christmas to happen then and now. And, of course, Alvin is more concerned with his want of a Hula Hoop!

I'll Be Home For Christmas
Some christmas carols are elaborately labored on with intricate melodies and poetic lyrics. Then there are those that are very simple and seem to be written from the words inside a Hallmark card. Usually, I don't like the latter kind. But with this song, it just gives me that warm Christmas feeling we all yearn for around the holiday season.

The Twelve Days of Christmas
I believe this is every child's favorite Christmas Carol, or at least it was when I was young. The gifts which the true love gives to the singer (which mostly consists of birds and entertainers) are so fun for the children to say (and imagine!). The carol has made way for several parodies and several good versions (the best being below with the late John Denver and the Muppets, ba dum bum bum!)

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Written by Tin Pan Alley writers Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine for the Hollywood musical diva Judy Garland (in the 1944 film Meet Me In St. Louis), this song is (to me) the power ballad of the Christmas season. Of course Garland's version is the definitive, but several artists (ranging from Frank Sinatra to Rod Stewart) have covered the song with decent results.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas
Yet another simple song to appear on the list. It also can be a very annoying song. But I cannot deny the reluctant charm this song has. Plus, I've always wondered what "figgy pudding" is.

White Christmas
I love most of the songs by the great Broadway (and Film!) composer Irving Berlin. This one has become his most famous and his most enduring (ironic, considering that Irving Berlin was Jewish!). Below, is the finale of the 1954 film White Christmas (which was on my Christmas films list) featuring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney.

The Carol of the Bells
I love the lush melody of this song. The song can be fully orchestrated (like by John Williams in 1990's Home Alone) or be played by nothing but the titular instruments (see the Claymation Chistmas!). The song is beautiful as an instrumental or with its lyrics (especially when sung by a great choir, like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir below).

Deck the Halls
What would Christmas be like without a little Fa La La La La La La La La La? That's all that needs to be said!

Silver Bells
This Christmas Carol's placement may surprise a lot of people. It is a little known ditty these days (yet it was extremely popular when I was growing up). I think what I love most about this song is that the imagery in it is very urban ("City sidewaks," "People passing," etc.). And (as a metro area-raised guy) it just appeals to me on that level.

The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire)
Written by jazz/pop singer-songwriter Mel Torme, and famously recorded by the legend that was Nat King Cole (quite frankly the definitive version!), this song completely embodies the imagery and emotional quotient of the season. It is my absolute favorite Christmas Carol and, for me, it just is not Christmas unless I hear this gorgeous tune.

So, there you have it: THE 10 BEST TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS CAROLS. Next week, I will list my favorite religious ones. As we go into December 25th, please keep the lessons of these songs in your hearts as you gather with your friends and families.


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