This may surprise you, but I love Christmas music! Hey, if noted Jewish compose/lyricist Irving Berlin could write ’em, I can listen to ’em. My Dad’s side of the family was Catholic, so I would celebrate Christmas with them in Pennsylvania and do Chanukkah in New Jersey with Mom’s side. One of the traditions I loved was driving around with my Pap in the big Oldsmobile looking at Christmas lights, usually with the radio playing Bing, Burl, and Brenda Lee. So with that…here are my Top 10 Christmas Tunes and some backstory with why I chose them
Brenda Lee – “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree”. The movie “Home Alone” is one of my favorites this time of year…and it was where I first heard Little Miss Dynamite Brenda Lee singing this. And I’ve been hooked ever since – that hot sax riff, the soaring guitar licks, and in STEREO it sounds larger than life. Never get tired of hearing it during the holidays.
Bobby Helms – Jingle Bell Rock. Another song that just hooks me from the opening guitar…and they way he borders on yodeling while singing at times makes it almost perfect. He also sang one of my favorite love songs – “My Special Angel” – so I’m happy to hear his voice this time of the year.
Donny Hathaway – This Christmas. Growing up in Jersey listening to the Philly oldies station, that soulful sound is in my blood like Cheese Wiz. The horns section and the way they fall off at the end of the note, the drums, and Donny’s soaring vocals lift you up to a celestial place. Sadly, he couldn’t find peace on Earth and he took his own life, but not before making his mark on the holiday season.
Drifters – White Christmas. I love doo wop (vocal group harmony), and The Drifters did it like nobody else. Another song I link to “Home Alone” – the scene where he is trying on aftershave and it BURNS. Sing a few dooby doo’s with these guys.
Darlene Love – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). A tradition on David Lettermen…the definitive version by Darlene Love. One of the first albums I purchased was a copy of “A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector.” The mad genius who made symphonies for kids knocked it out of the park with this one – the strings, the horns, the lyrics, and her voice coming out of the speakers like a cannon.
Merle Haggard – If We Make It Thru December. Growing up, my Dad worked for country radio stations (my favorite was the classic country station). One year I was helping him load music into the computer for Christmas, and I came across Merle singing about being hopeful in spite of hardship. A nice reminder the holiday season isn’t merry for all – and to give where you can.
Temptations – Little Drummer Boy. The Harry Simone Chorale might have the definitive version…but NOTHING can top the tight harmonies of The Temptations backed up by the Funk Brothers.
Ronettes – Sleigh Ride. Another song from “A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector” that always brings a smile to my face…from the layered horns & strings and the rest of the Wrecking Crew galloping at full blast to Ronnie Spector’s sweet voice…you’ll be singing “RINGALINGALING DING DONG DING!” until Valentines Day. And the horse sound effects are perfect at the beginning and end.
Elvis Presley – Blue Christmas. I have spent every Christmas with my Dad’s family in PA since I was born, with the exception of two years….one of those was when my Pap was still alive. He looked forward to Christmas like no other, and was sorrowful whenever I talked to him on the phone because I couldn’t come home that year. And whenever we were about to hang up the phone…he started to sing “Blue Christmas” by Elvis. It was a Blue Christmas, but I was able to see him for New Year’s Eve at least.
Frank Sinatra – Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. Always loved Ol’ Blue Eyes, but especially at Christmas where his warm voice and lush orchestration just make it feel like the holidays. At the time I first heard this song, I was working for a station at the Jersey Shore that went all-Christmas for the first time. That evening I pre-recorded my show to go out on a date with my then girlfriend, and just as I pulled into the driveway this song came on. We just sat in the car looking at the decorations, holding hands, and listening to The Chairman of the Board in my Cadillac. The 96 Sedan Deville is gone, and the girlfriend is now just a friend, but whenever I hear this song I smile. Hopefully you have yourself a merry little Christmas and a happy new year!