You would think that with all the years of Christmas pageants and choral performances, plus all the Christmas masses, holiday ensemble gigs and years of opera training culminating in endless Christmas-themed recitals, that I am something of an expert on the subject of Christmas music. And you would be correct. You are very astute!
Being a certified Christmas Music Expert, I have to be picky about the Christmas music I consume each year. There are some songs that are an annual tradition and other songs that it’s an annual tradition to avoid at all costs. Usually I fire up the Songza app on my phone or tablet and tell the concierge to play me indie Christmas music; it’s always delightful and unlike Pandora, ad-free.
I thought I’d share some of my Christmas music recommendations here, since surely everyone can benefit from the advice of an official Christmas Music Expert.
First, I have to establish some ground rules. The following songs are right out:
- Paul McCartney, “Wonderful Christmastime.” Really, Paul? You were in The Beatles.
- Anyone, “Winter Wonderland.” No, we will not build a snowman and ask him to marry us. This is not Frozen.
- Anyone, “Sleigh Ride.” Want to see me turn homicidal?
Now that’s out of the way, on to the songs.
1) Glasvegas, “A Snowflake Fell.” Like most Scottish things this walks a thin line between depressing and stirring, but either way it’s a beautiful melody. And his accent is amazeballs.
2) John Lennon, “Happy Christmas.” Admittedly this is desperately overplayed every year, but I still love it. I even love it despite John Lennon’s questionable moral character and the general ridiculousness that is Yoko Ono. Paul McCartney heard this song and eight years later he still wrote “Wonderful Christmastime.” There is no excuse. By the way, “Happy Christmas” has the most depressing official music video in the entire history of people combining pictures and music. Enjoy.
3) Mannheim Steamroller, “Silent Night,” AKA “OH MY GOD WHY DID I LISTEN TO THIS SONG I CAN’T STOP CRYING IT’S LIKE SOMEBODY PUT EVERY CHRISTMAS MEMORY FROM MY ENTIRE LIFE INTO ONE MONTAGE AND THEN ERASED ALL THE HAPPY PARTS AND INSTEAD REPLACED THEM WITH GUT-WRENCHING SORROW BUT I CAN’T STOP LISTENING IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL SOMEONE MAKE IT STOP.”
4) Traditional, “O Come, Emmanuel.” I have lost track of how many times I’ve performed this song, but it never gets old. I’m on the fence about Lindsey Stirling, but she does a pretty nice job with this song and it’s accompanied beautifully by a blind 17 year old, self-taught piano prodigy. And she is not in a costume, though she is dancing. And there are waves.
5) David Bowie & Bing Crosby, “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth.” Who doesn’t love a good quodlibet? Who doesn’t love Bing Crosby? Who doesn’t love David Bowie? If these two men don’t go down in the annals of history as two of the best voices ever to have graced music, it will be a crime.
6) Eric Cartman, “O Holy Night.” I’ll just leave this here.
7) The Monkees, “Riu Chiu.” So much for “just a fake band.” Respect.
8) Judy Garland, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” My favorite Christmas song. So melancholy, so hopeful, so…perfect.
9) Angela Lansbury, “We Need a Little Christmas.” Mame is a masterpiece of a musical, and Angela Lansbury is a masterful theatre artist. While I could go with the original cast recording so you can hear her in her prime, something about this live version, filmed years after, is just charming.
10) She Wants Revenge, “Kidnap the Sandy Claws.” The Nightmare Before Christmas should be required viewing at this time of year. One of my favorite bands, a ‘darkwave’ band called She Wants Revenge, covered one of the most memorable songs from the movie…and the results were amazing.
11) All About Eve, “Last Christmas.” Wham’s “Last Christmas” is one of those songs everybody loves and most people are ashamed to admit it. But you don’t have to be ashamed anymore. All About Eve has done a really really REALLY good cover, making the song a perfectly legitimate and relevant holiday tune once again. And no George Michael.
12) Loreena McKennitt, “Snow.” Loreena McKennitt is an astounding folk singer known for her Celtic music and her incredible original songs and lovely orchestrations of classic poems to music. “Snow” is a poem by Archibald Lampman which Loreena set to music. This is the result. Gives me chills every time. (Album version here, MUST be heard as well.)
13) The Killers, “Don’t Shoot Me Santa.” Adorbs. Also, Brandon Flowers. ❤ ❤ ❤
14) Joni Mitchell, “River.” Another one of those Christmas songs that’s so melancholy and so beautiful, and really just a simple, pretty song. Whether you’re going through a rough time in your relationship (or have ever been through a rough patch in a relationship) or just a human being with feelings that include empathy, this is a song that moves you.
15) The Pretenders, “2000 Miles.” It’s sweet, it’s optimistic and it’s meaningful for any of us who’ve ever been far apart from loved ones.
16) Sting, “Christmas at Sea.” This song combines three things I love (poetry, the ocean/commercial fishing & Celtic folk) and one thing I like (Sting’s voice). It’s a Robert Louis Stevenson poem set to music, and wonderfully done so by Sting and Mary Macmaster. I grew so fond of this song I actually bought his Christmas album If on a Winter’s Night but I haven’t listened to it yet. It’s been three years.
Well, now that you’ve heard the recommendations of a fully qualified Christmas Music Expert, what else would you add to the list of songs worth hearing, or songs to avoid?