Thursday, December 30, 2010

10 FAVORITES (17) - Holidays PART IV: Religious Christmas Carols

Joy to the World! As the Holiday Season comes to an end with the New Year, I want to finish up my Holidays Edition of 10 FAVORITES. As promised, this will be the best Christmas Carols that derive from religious traditions. Now, having been raised Catholic, most of these Carols are songs I heard every Christmas in church growing up. One thing I have noticed about most of these carols is that a lot of them are very difficult to sing well. Sure, you could sing some these carols slightly off-key and still be quite adequate, but the real test of these carols is if you can nail every note (which is why I tried to find the best versions of the songs on the web). So here they are:


What Child Is This? (Or really, Greensleeves)
A beautiful song with the poetic imagery of the manger scene set to the music of the famous "Greensleeves."

We Three Kings (Of Orient Are)
This song was always fun to sing because of the "Star of Wonder" refrain and it was a good way for the kids in church to learn the story of the Magi.

The First Noel
This song was always on the stereo for me growing up. My cousin's middle name is "Noelle" (because she was born a few days after Christmas) and so every time they got to the "Noel" chorus, I always thought they were singing about her! (Sometimes kids think anything!!!)

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
This is such a fun song, especially when you get to the "Comfort and Joy" line. I've heard different arrangements and the one below (by the dynamic Annie Lennox) is one of the best.

The Little Drummer Boy
I used to call this song the "Rum Pum Pum" song. I love the way it builds and builds in its melody and then goes back down (just like a little boy's emotions and excitement). Below, I just HAD to use the famous duet between the disparate Bing Crosby and David Bowie (I believe everyone has seen this duet!)

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
The best versions of this song are when choruses of people are singing it (much like at the end of It's a Wonderful Life).

Silent Night
Quite possibly the most famous and most enduring Christmas Carol of all-time, but it is NOT #1. It still is a good song, but it is also quite deceptive. Some people think it is an extremely easy to sing, when actually it is an intricate melody that is very hard to get just right (believe me, it was difficult to find a really good version of the song and I figured I couldn't go wrong with Beyonce!).

Do You Hear What I Hear?
Like "The Little Drummer Boy," this song rises and rises and as it rises, the subject of each verse gets grander and grander. It goes from a lamb to a shepherd boy to a king to the people. And it is really good when the song is belted (like below by Whitney Houston, back when she was the Whitney we loved!).

Angels We Have Heard On High
Songs about angels, as I said earlier, are best when sung by large groups of people. Don't get me wrong, there are good solo versions of this song. But the "Gloria" chorus is really served best when multiple voices and octaves wash over the melody.

O Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fidelis)
When I was young, I first heard the english version of this song (which is the one almost everyone knows). But, growing up Catholic, I just HAD to hear the latin version as well. And that version is really quite beautiful (especially when sung by voices like the Three Tenors!).

O Holy Night
This carol almost rivals "The Christmas Song" as my favorite carol of all-time. It is yet another song that builds until a glorious climax. Because of the range of the song, it is also notoriously difficult to sing. It is best when handled by the likes of Andrea Bocelli, Placido Domingo, Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand and (below) Josh Goban.

There you have it: THE 10 BEST RELIGIOUS CHRISTMAS CAROLS. Hope one of your favorites is on here. Next week, to celebrate the New Year, I will cover the most important Pop Culture moments of 2010. Until then:


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