A Few of My Favorite Christmas Songs

Hands down my favorite Christmas song of 2018. I passed up this album in favor of Jackie Gleason’s Tis The Season, a purchase I do not regret, but this song is definitely worth the price of the vinyl. I love it when Frank sings melancholy, and this one has that quality in spades. Nostalgia, regret, and loneliness are all wrapped up in that golden bow of his amazing voice, a voice that forces your ears to attention when you hear it, never aging, never dulling, calling your life before your eyes, and all but materializing that glass of whiskey or scotch in your left hand, as your right hand reaches to pull the brim of your fedora down a little more to cover the tears in your eyes. Merry Christmas!

I had no idea Zooey Deschanel could sing.

And what a revelation.

The buttery, sultry vocals on this cover seemed channeled from an earlier time. I didn’t think it was possible for people to sing like this anymore. For me, Michael Buble and Harry Connick, Jr. seemed only to drive that point home — that the age of the non-ironic lounge act was gone, irrevocably. But this voice. I listened to some of the other songs on the album and there are a few other good ones, but this one stood out in my mind for its perfect fidelity to that bygone sound, which She doesn’t so much evoke as make present.

The tune is one I’m hearing more of this year. Coincidence? Or synchronicity?

I heard this for the first time just a couple of weeks ago with Kassi while in the bathroom at a restaurant in Waikiki. It is the first serious cover of this song that I’ve ever heard that I enjoy all the way through. Something about the minor keys. In researching the husband-and-wife duo behind the cover, I discovered their tribute album to Hall and Oates, which I highly recommend checking out.

I said the first serious cover. I always liked Bob and Doug McKenzie’s take (tocque?) on it.

December — Jackie Gleason

Man. There is nothing mellower in life than kicking back with a glass of Scotch while letting yourself be carried away by Jackie freaking Gleason and his orchestra. Sure he didn’t actually write all that stuff, but who cares? All of those albums are GOLD as far as I’m concerned. Just the absolute epitome of mood music, and the mood is always one you want to be in. I bought this album brand new at Barnes & Noble just last week, so I guess he still has his fans. The whole album is among his best, and I don’t know how he manages to be both Christmas-y and mellow and kinda sexy all at the same time, but he does it.

Great alchemy.

Greensleeves — Andres Segovia

I was originally looking for a harp rendition of this old melody when I stumbled across this version, which happens to be much better suited. This piece is like a theme and variations, and it shows off his considerable talent. I’m not familiar with Andres Segovia, but apparently he was a big deal in the world of classical Spanish guitar.

I like to listen to Spanish guitar when I study or work. I find it both calming and focusing.

Jane, Jane (Children, Go Where I Send Thee) — Peter, Paul, and Mary

A carol/spiritual with a strong, driving rhythm and killer vocals from Folk music’s most commercially successful group. I count this one and A Soalin’ (counted as an Advent song, it’s actually a Halloween song — but that’s another story) among my all time favorite Christmas tunes. The way Mary’s brash voice constrasts with the studiously mellow voices of the other two is my favorite thing about that group.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas — Rod McKuen

Rod’s voice is an acquired taste. But for those who develop an appreciation for his quirky voice and raspy throat, there’s probably not a better pairing of carol and singer.

O Holy Night — Glenn Yarbrough

Glenn begins the carol with a poem, as he liked to do so often, borrowing a technique, I think, from his favorite songwriter Rod McKuen. There are a lot of really awful renditions of this song, probably because musically it’s the best of the traditional carols, so many who have an overly high estimation of their own talent like to put their spin on it. It was especially popular again around 10-15 years ago. Glenn treats the work with utmost respect, and has the talent and voice to do it justice.

[Update: the original video was removed. I link to a new one where you can hear the song in the second half of the video.]

A Christmas Carol — from Scrooge (1970)

I fell in love with this movie about 25 years ago after watching a broadcast on UHF on the old black and white television I kept in my bedroom. I had always pretended to hate musicals, and to be sure I didn’t like them as a rule. But a few I kept close to my heart, and none more so than this one. The songs were bold, and made you stand up, made you want to go caroling. And I don’t know what child of the 1980s wouldn’t have their heartstrings pulled by songs like Christmas Children. It kept the memory and the feeling of the season alive for me during a time in my younger years when such observances had fallen by the wayside. Albert Finney’s performance was truly incredible, pulling off the old geezer with perfect fidelity to old age despite being quite young at the time he filmed it. When he sings about lost love, you really feel the pain. When the rabble dance on his coffin, you feel the hate. I don’t think any other adaptation of A Christmas Carol was as genuinely moving.

This song opens the film and I love the triumphant tone.

Christmas Time Is Here (Instrumental) — Vince Guaraldi

Nothing captures the beauty of 20th century American Christmas quite like this soft and contemplative melody from Vince Guaraldi and his Trio. When I listen to this, it’s snowing in my mind. It both rings in and closes out the season for me, and as I listen here in the dark of my home, enjoying the warm, soft glow cast by the tree and a hundred other lights strung up over banisters and skirting the windows around kitchen and den, I toast it now with a frothy mug of my favorite brandied nog.

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas.