My parents didn’t spend a lot of money on record albums when I was growing up. They mostly listened to the radio. But after Thanksgiving, we would pull down the box of Christmas albums out of the attic and for the next month our house would be filled with the sounds of the season. Music has always been a big part of what makes this time of year special.
Today’s a snow day here in Maryland and I was looking through my own collection of Christmas music. Just for fun, I thought I’d post a few of my favorites, maybe some you haven’t heard. Click on a title to open up another tab or window with the song. I hope you enjoy these, and will add some of your own in the comments.
Go Tell it On the Mountain
- Mahalia Jackson
I have two versions of Mahalia Jackson doing this song. One has a choir and an orchestra, but the linked one is by far my favorite – no backing vocals, just Mahalia belting it out over some funky organ.
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
- Julie Andrews
Nothing really special about this song, but it reminds me of every Christmas record giveaway from gas stations and tire stores my parents collected when I was a kid. It’s just Julie and a horn-heavy orchestra, with a weird echo like it was recorded on the mountain at the beginning of the Sound of Music.
- Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops
Not technically a Christmas song, but certainly a classic, whip sound effects and all. This version is particularly meaningful to me because my dad loved the Boston Pops and watched them most Sunday nights on PBS.
Christmas Time is Here Again
- The Beatles
Every year during their time together, The Beatles released a Christmas 45 for their fans. They started simply with some ad-libbed greetings around a studio mic, but grew in complexity. When I was in college in the early 80′s I found a bootleg record with all the Christmas records, and we listened to it over and over in the dorm. The 1967 version, with Monty Python-type bits built around the repetitive “Christmas Time is Here Again,” is the best. It’s funny, sometimes psychedelic, and has other pieces of “great” songs like “Plenty of Jam Jars Baby.” (For an example of the earlier, simpler Christmas releases, here’s an example from 1965. If you liked the 1967 version, also check out Everywhere It’s Christmas from 1966.)
- from Handel’s Messiah, a Soulful Celebration
From 1992, this is one of my favorite “modern” Christmas albums. It’s a reinterpretation of Handel’s Messiah by African American artists with styles from Ragtime to Jazz to Hip Hop. The finale of the album is this rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus by a hall of fame of Gospel artists conducted by Quincy Jones.
12 Days of Christmas
- “Bob and Doug McKenzie”
Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas of SCTV portrayed these “hosers” from the Great White North. Their reworked “12 Days of Christmas” still gets a chuckle, but it’s not as funny as it seemed in 1981 when I was in college. I now disagree with Bob McKenzie’s assessment at the end of the song – “I think it ranks up there with Stairway to Heaven,” but it’s still not Christmas without hearing it a few times.
The Little Boy that Santa Clause Forgot
- Nat King Cole
What a sad song! ”I feel so sorry for that laddie/He hasn’t got a daddy.” But I think hearing it over and over each Christmas growing up gave me at least some idea that there were kids out there who were not as blessed materially as I was.
This song was on my favorite Christmas album, “Christmas Is for Children.” We had that one for as long as I can remember – I was young enough when we got it that when I asked my mom who that was singing and she answered, “The late Nat King Cole,” I thought the poor man may not be on time, but he sure can sing.
This song gets extra points because the Vera Lynn version is playing at the beginning of “Pink Floyd’s the Wall” (the film not the album).
Mary Did You Know
There have been lots of versions of this poignant Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene song, but I like this one by Kutless the best. It gives an edge appropriate to the less than ideal conditions around the manger instead of the usual syrupy interpretations. The song itself has great incarnational theology – “Did you know, when you kissed your little baby, you kissed the face of God?” And also hints of the Cross to come – “Did you know the child that you delivered would soon deliver you?”
I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas
- Gayle Peevey
I know lots of people are irritated by this song. I think it’s a lot of fun (like Christmas!). It’s on the list mainly in appreciation of the rhyme of “rhinoceroseses” with “hippopotamuseses” and for the educational value of learning that hippos are vegetarians.
The Christmas Song
- Nat King Cole
The definitive version of the definitive Christmas song (by Mel Tome and Robert Wells). What else is there to say?