Birthday Retrospective: Top 70s Artists and Songs

As Part 2 of my “Birthday Retrospective,” leading up to my 40th birthday, I’d like to take a look back at the music which shaped my childhood — which of course took place in the 1970s.

Music was a big part of my childhood.  It was ever-present, in the stereo in the living room, with its 8-Track player that we used constantly, and in my room with my own records.  I lived through the singer-songwriter era, and the disco era.  My mom clued me into artists such as Carpenters, ABBA, Barry Manilow, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond and countless others.  If the 8-Track or the record player weren’t playing, the radio was.  And I was singing along the whole time.

Anyone who has visited my blog over the 5 years I’ve kept it up knows that I have a special love for 70s music.  So here is a list of some of my most favorite artists and the songs I remember best from my growing-up period: the 1970s. (NOTE:  Many of these links, due to copyright restrictions, will take you to YouTube to view the content.)

1. The Carpenters

By far, the Carpenters shaped my life the most, musically.  They were a part of my earliest childhood, singing along with them to the “Singles” 8-Track constantly.  I memorized the words to their songs just as quickly as “Twinkle Twinkle” or “Hickory Dickory Dock.”  They’re ingrained into my fabric.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

To pick just one or two significant Carpenters songs is like trying to pick a speck of dust out of a pile of salt.  There are so many that mean so much to me.  But I did narrow it down to two.

Sing
Written by Joe Raposo, writer of so many wonderful Sesame Street and Electric Company songs, this song probably means the most to me because it has, over the years, shaped my feeling about music, and has stayed with me ever since:  Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear.  Just sing… sing a song. What a profound statement.

Top of the World
Just like “Sing,” this Richard Carpenter/Jon Bettis classic quickly became my favorite, and even at the young age of a 3, I would sing it up and down the halls of my parents’ home.  I called it “I Can Find” at the time, from the line “And the only explanation I can find….” in the chorus.   I guess that one phrase stuck with me the most.  In any case, “Top of the World” still remains a favorite, and every so often I listen to that recording me at 3 years of age, singing along with my Mom.

2. Barry Manilow

Daybreak
Before Serial Mom killed one of her victims while playing “Daybreak” on her car stereo’s tape player (one of my favorite scenes, I must admit), this song reminded me of summers in the 70s, with Barry Manilow playing and my sister and I messing up my mother’s living room with Little People sets all over the place.

Mandy
Another favorite– again, trying to pick just one or two Barry Manilow songs proved difficult.  All of the classic 70s tunes were part of the soundtrack of my childhood; but this one always stuck with me as a favorite.  Even though he didn’t write it himself.  (It was actually written and recorded by a singer named Scott English in 1971, and it was originally titled “Brandy.”  The song’s name was changed when Manilow recorded it because another song named “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” was popular at the time.  These days, that notion seems ridiculous.

3. ABBA

Dancing Queen
Oh Dancing Queen, what a long history you and I have.  You’d think it was the whole “gay” subtext that makes this one appropriate for my list, but you’d be wrong.  It actually goes back as far as when the song itself actually first came out.  My mom loved ABBA and had just about as many of their 8-Tracks as the Carpenters, and we played them just about as often.  My most vivid memory of “Dancing Queen,” though, is that it always seemed to play on the radio while my mom was carting my sister and I to the KYF (which was more or less the YMCA in Kenosha) for swimming lessons.  We’d both be miserable, dreading going to our lessons; but then ABBA would come on and we’d sing along with “Dancing Queen,” and everything seemed to be okay from there on out.  So I guess a song can have multiple meanings to a person over the years.

The Name of the Game
I don’t know what it is about this song, but it’s always been one of my favorite ABBA tunes.  I like the story behind it, the melody, the bassline, and even the video.

Interestingly, about this video, I remember seeing it on TV in the 1970s, probably on a “Midnight Special” show.  You may remember that show– it was hosted by Wolfman Jack and featured popular acts playing live, and was shown, appropriately enough, at midnight.  By the mid-1970s I was a pretty music-savvy kid, so if I knew one of my favorite artists was scheduled to appear somewhere, I’d make sure I saw it.  ABBA was one of them.  However, ABBA rarely appeared live, because they either couldn’t or weren’t willing to travel such long distances.  So instead, they recorded short videos of themselves performing their songs.  They were truly groundbreaking in the area of the short-form music video.

4. Elton John

Rocket Man
No 1970s list would be complete without my namesake– well, at least my nickname’s namesake– the Rocket Man himself, Elton John.  Elton was certainly present throughout my childhood, but he wasn’t among my parents’ 8-Tracks or LPs.  Elton was someone I came to enjoy a little later on, when I realized just how much his music really had affected me.  But I do distinctly remember Elton’s music being VERY present on the radio.

Rocket Man was always a favorite.  I loved the story of the song and the imagery employed by that awesome guitar effect of the “rocket taking off” as the song leads into the chorus.  It was haunting and, really, groundbreaking– and it’s stayed with me my entire life.  So much so that, when I first got online with the Prodigy service in the early 1990s, I chose Rocket Man as my online “handle.”  And it’s stayed with me ever since.

5. James Taylor

Fire and Rain
As you go through this list, you’ll see that singer/songwriters played as great a role in my musical heritage as rockers and disco artists.  In fact, as I’ve grown older, singer/songwriters have probably had a larger lasting effect on me, both for the style of their music and the simplicity of it.  James Taylor, by far, was one of my favorites.  I heard “Fire and Rain” constantly on the radio growing up, and while I didn’t really understand what all the lyrics meant at time, I knew it was a wonderful song with a special meaning to someone.  It’s still one of my all-time favorites today.

6. Carly Simon

Anticipation
I can’t help it.  Whenever I hear this song, I think of Heinz ketchup.  “Anticipation” was a mega hit for Carly Simon in the early 1970s, but many people my age will distinctly recall the Heinz ketchup commercials where two kids could barely wait for the ketchup to come out of the bottle.  Of course now-a-days, you just squeeze the bottle and end of story– but if you are like me and like old-fashioned glass bottles, the “anticipation” is part of the fun.

Nobody Does It Better
This song reminds me of a lot of things– it was on the radio constantly in the late 1970s, so there are many memories associated with it back then.  But I also used this song for a slide show that I created for my DECA state officer team in the early 1990s.  I wish I still had that slide show– might have to re-create it — but ever since then, this song makes me think of them.

7. Paul McCartney & Wings

Two of Paul McCartney’s hits with his second band, “Wings” play very important parts of my childhood, and to this day I still associate them with specific moments from that time.

Listen To What The Man Says
This song reminds me of my mom and our neighbors taking us to the newly-opened city pool at the end of our block.  When it first opened, they used to play music on the loudspeakers, and this song was among those played.  For some reason, ever since then, I have associated it with that memory.  It’s a very good memory, too.

With A Little Luck
Simliarly, and much later in the decade, this classic tune reminds me of playing outdoors in the summer of 1978 or 1979.  I had a little handheld radio then that I took with me everywhere I went, and this song was immensely popular at that time.  Every time I hear it, I can see myself playing in the backyard and laying on our lawn chairs in the middle of the cool green grass.

8. Carole King

So Far Away
This song not only reminds of many wonderful times where I heard the song; but the lyrics of the song also evoke memories of the wonderful people that have come and gone in my lifetime.  Nobody writes songs like this anymore.  It’s a shame.

9. Olivia Newton-John

Please Mr. Please
When I was a kid, I went through a major country phase.  I don’t remember exactly why– but I remember listening to country music on the radio a lot at one point.  One of my favorite songs from that time was this gorgeous tune by the lovely Olivia Newton-John.  This was, of course, pre-“Grease” and “Xanadu,” but I knew I liked what I heard right from the start.

Sam
Another great song from her early years… this one always touched me as being so very honest.  If you’ve ever seen her sing in person, you know how much she “lives” the song… she really interprets everything she does beautifully.  Also, you’ll notice that all of these performances are LIVE.  She rarely ever lip synched.  Oh yeah, and autotune didn’t exist back then.  This is called pure singing.

I Honestly Love You
I had to add one more, because Olivia is just so wonderful.  This one is from just last year, in 2009.  Not only is she still lovely, her voice has aged beautifully.  As a singer, this is what I hope for — to grow old gracefully and to be able to sing for many more years to come.

10. Bee Gees

Now, no list of 70s artists from my childhood would be complete without the Bee Gees.  In the mid to late 70s, they were EVERYTHING, and EVERYWHERE.  I had their poster up in my bedroom, and wore their LPs out so badly I had to get new ones.  The Bee Gees were quintissential 70s, and I still love them today.

Stayin’ Alive
Of course, this song was a HUGE favorite of mine.  When I got my “John Travolta Suit” for my birthday, I imagined myself on that lighted dancefloor, dancing to this song.  Yeah… was there any wonder at all?

How Deep Is Your Love
Man, this song was smooth then and it’s smooth now.  It never ages.  One of the most perfect love songs ever written.  And every time I hear it, I’m hurtled back 30 years to that time when I played it constantly on my turntable.  Such great times.  Such great memories.

BONUS: Michael Martin Murphey – Wildfire

As a bonus, I have to include this classic 70s country-rock tune.  This song was undoubtedly my favorite song growing up.  It’s still at the top of my list.  I never get tired of the melody and the story.  And I was just talking to someone about this — when I would hear it back then, I would create my own “video” in my mind from the imagery of the story.  I still think of those “images” today, every time I hear it.  That’s the power of great music– timeless and everlasting.  I love this live version, with an extended intro and solos at the end.  Still makes me wistful today.

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Way to be timely, Yahoo!

I just happened to click on this Yahoo Music article (the headline did not say that it was about Justin “Lesbian Boychild” Bieber) and could not help but chuckle when I saw the “More Artist News” articles in the sideline.

Note the date.  They are ALL from 2000.

Way to be timely with your music news, Yahoo!

MORE Definitive Holiday Songs!

Last year at about this time, I came up with a list of what I called my “Definitive Holiday Songs.”  These are songs that not only define the holidays, but also define the song as well.

Many times Christmas or other holiday songs get recorded ad nauseum until we barely care about the song anymore… but surely there are versions of the songs that are THE best, and should stand as the absolute definitive version ever made.

I devised last year’s list, based only on my own feelings about the songs, and many of you followed up with some suggestions for further definitive versions.  I said at the time I would do another list, so… a year later, here it is, in no particular order:

1. All I Want For Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey. Say what you will (or want t0) about Ms. Carey; she can craft a damn catchy tune.  And this one, from her “Merry Christmas” album, is the one that has stood the test of time the best.  It’s upbeat, it’s fun, and it’s become a classic that has now been covered by countless other artists… a sure test of a song’s longevity.  But nothing beats the original.  Mariah was in her element here.

2. Blue Christmas – Elvis Presley. I’m not a huge Elvis fan, but nothing beats his version of this bluesy rock ‘n roll Christmas classic.  Elvis’s vocals, with the backup vocals doing their “dooo doo dooo’s” are unmatched, and no matter how many times I hear this song done by someone else, nothing sounds as good as Elvis’s version.  It’s holiday perfection.

3. The Christmas Waltz – Carpenters. The Carpenters get another classic nod here, in this oft-covered song, written by the legendary Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne (though some sources credit James Van Heusen, so I’m not 100% certain which is accurate).  The song has been recorded by such luminaries as Frank Sinatra and Mel Torme, but nothing beats Richard and Karen’s lilty version.

4. Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses. They know what boys like, but they also knew how to rock out a great holiday classic.  Some think the song is dated, but I think it’s funky and fun, with a rapped-and-sung verse structure (note the pun on “wrapping”) that tells the story about running into the same guy all year long before finally connecting with him for the holidays.  The song was re-written and re-sung by a group called “Save Ferris” with a Jewish theme for Hanukkah, but nothing beats the original.

5. Cool Yule – Bette Midler. The Divine Miss M came out with a wonderful Christmas album a few years ago that is still a favorite this year, and she named it “Cool Yule,” which, coincidentally, is also the name of CGMC’s first Holiday album.  The song “Cool Yule” was first popularized by Louis Armstrong, and his version is quite definitive, but Bette truly makes it her own.  It’s fun and joyful without being too over-the-top.

6. Feliz Navidad – Jose Feliciano. There are plenty who are tired of this song, but I still love it.  When I hear it, I know it’s Christmastime.  It’s joyful and fun and carefree, which is what the holidays SHOULD be about.  I’ve always been a fan of Jose Feliciano, so of course, his version is the absolute definitive to me.

7. The First Noël – Johnny Mathis. Another one that has been recorded over and over and OVER again, but Johnny Mathis gets the nod for the reverent reading, thanks in large part to a lush arrangement by Percy Faith and his orchestra and chorus.   Usually most versions hit the high note on the last “Noël” before “Born is the King of Israel” on the very last chorus, but Johnny hits it every single time, holding it a bit longer the last time.  For some reason, I like that.

8. Grown-Up Christmas List – Michael Bublé. This is a fairly newer song that juuuuust teeters on the edge of being schlocky, but it’s so lovely and well-intended that I can’t bring myself to hate it.  The song was composed by David Foster and Linda Thompson-Jenner in 1990 and appeared, with vocals by Natalie Cole, on his Christmas album titled “River of Love.”  In 1992, Amy Grant recorded the song for her album, “Home for Christmas,” and in so doing wrote an additional verse and altered some of the lyrics.  Grant’s version is the one most people are familiar with, and it’s her version that Bublé sings.  I like Amy Grant’s version well-enough, and many people consider hers the definitive version (especially since she provided the revised lyrics that made it a ‘hit,’ but I think Bublé’s version is sweeter and a little more sincere.  Incidentally, Kelly Clarkson recently recorded a version of the song that actually broke into Billboard Adult Contemporary charts in 2003– the first version to ever chart.

9. Happy Xmas (War is Over) – Sarah McLachlan. I know I’ll get grief for this, but I actually prefer Sarah McLachlan’s version of this John Lennon classic better than the original by John and Yoko.  Sue me.  It’s my list, and I make the choices. 🙂

10. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Judy Garland. I don’t quite know how I could have forgotten this in my first list, but by all means, the absolute definitive version of this classic belongs to Judy and nobody else.  Written in 1944 for the movie musical, “Meet Me In St. Louis” by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine (although Blaine’s contributions are debated, especially by Martin), the original version contains slightly different lyrics than the more commonly-known version performed regularly today.  Interestingly, the song’s first version was deemed “too depressing” by Garland and Vincente Minelli, and it was revised to the version performed in the movie.  Original lyrics follow:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last,
Next year we may all be living in the past
Have yourself a merry little Christmas, pop that champagne cork,
Next year we will all be living in New York.

No good times like the olden days, happy golden days of yore,
Faithful friends who were dear to us, will be near to us no more.

But at least we all will be together, if the Fates allow,
From now on we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now

Where’s the razor blade, right?  Good call to change the lyrics.

The current lyrics are below, with the movie version lyrics in (parenthesis):

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light
From now on, (Next year all) our troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a merry little Christmas, make the Yule-tide gay,
From now on, (Next year all) our troubles will be miles away.
Here we are (Once again) as in olden days, happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us. gather (Will be) near to us once more.
Through the years (Someday soon) we all will be together, If the Fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough. (Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.)
And (S0) have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

11. I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm – Billie Holiday. Not exactly a Christmas or even a Holiday song, more of a “Seasonal” song… but certainly one that gets a lot of play during the holidays.  Lady Day’s version of this Irving Berlin classic still remains the most definitive, because I’ve found that most versions that followed seemed to try to copy her style in interpreting it.

12. “I Believe In Father Christmas – Greg Lake/Emerson Lake and Palmer. This song has an interesting story behind it.  It was originally recorded in 1974 by Greg Lake as a solo effort, and was never really intended to be an actual Christmas song in the traditional sense.  It was written in protest of the commercialization of Christmas, and also in protest of the Vietnam war.  However, the theme of the song, especially the line, “I wish you a hopeful Christmas; I wish you a brave new year,” turned the song into a phenomenon.  The song has also been interpreted as anti-religious, which Lake denied, saying “I find it appalling when people say it’s politically incorrect to talk about Christmas, you’ve got to talk about ‘The Holiday Season.’  Christmas was a time of family warmth and love. There was a feeling of forgiveness, acceptance. And I do believe in Father Christmas.” The song was also recorded by Lake’s group, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, three times – in 1975, 1977 and 1993; but the most definitive version belongs to the original Greg Lake version.

13. Mary’s Little Boy Child – Harry Simeone Chorale. Sometimes credited as “Mary’s Boy Child,” this song is probably most often attributed to Harry Belafonte, and I, again, will probably get some flak for choosing this version over Harry’s, but as lovely as Harry’s version is, the Simeone Chorale does it in a great Calypso beat that fits the song beautifully, and transforms it into an upbeat and joyful tune.  Mahalia Jackson also does a wonderful version of the tune.

14. Please Come Home For Christmas – Charles Brown. This blues/rock ‘n roll Christmas classic was written and originally recorded by Charles Brown, and he still owns the definitive version.  Subsequent recordings by The Eagles and Jon Bon Jovi, among others, have typically remained faithful to Brown’s original version, so it only makes sense that the definitive belongs to Brown.

15. River – Joni Mitchell. Only in recent years has this wonderful tune become more associated with Christmas, mainly because the setting revolves around Christmastime, and evokes images of winter, snow, ice and skating.  Additionally, the song begins with an interpolation of “Jingle Bells,” which continues throughout the song.  In recent years, “River” has been covered more and more frequently.  I absolutely LOVE this song, and any excuse to promote Joni Mitchell’s brilliance is reason enough for me to include her in this list.

16. Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town – Bing Crosby with the Andrews Sisters. There are SO many versions of this song that it’s really hard to choose one really definitive version.  But the one that I couldn’t stop thinking of was this one, which was featured in “A Christmas Story” and played on Christmas morning when Ralphie and Randy discovered their presents.  Almost as good as their “Jingle Bells” version, which I think might have qualified for another “definitive” spot, if I hadn’t already given it to the Ray Conniff singers.

17. and 18.  Still, Still, Still and Veni, Veni Emmanuel – Mannheim Steamroller featuring the Cambridge Singers. These two carols were featured on the Steamroller’s second Christmas effort, “A Fresh Aire Christmas,” easily their best Christmas album.  “Veni, Veni” is gorgeous, with the choir performing the chanted version at the beginning and the band coming in with a beautiful rendition to follow, closing again with the chant.  But “Still, Still, Still” is my favorite track on the album by far.  This song, an Austrian lullaby which dates back to 1819, is haunting, beautiful and relaxing… evoking such scenes as falling snow, a peaceful land, and of course the birth of Jesus.  The song never fails to connect to me emotionally, and I have not heard a prettier version.  The arrangement is by Norman Luboff, a very commonly performed arrangement, and the Steamroller kept everything very traditional on this track, which I appreciate.  By far, this is one of my most favorite carols.

19. What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? – Diana Krall. I have to hand this one to Diana Krall because I absolutely love her Christmas album and love her interpretations of holiday classics… and it’s just too hard to choose just one of her tracks that I like more than the other.  This one is probably best because it fits her style so well– that jazzy, lounge-y style that I love so much.

20. What Child Is This? – Sarah McLachlan.  Again, this song has been covered so many times it’s hard to choose just one to call “definitive,” but right now this is the one that’d defining the song for me.  McLachlan takes the song in a somewhat different direction, almost singing a harmony line throughout… but it works.  It’s gentle and soft, as you’d expect from McLachlan, but gorgeous all the same.  It almost fits the song’s original intent, as the English carol “Greensleeves.”  It has an almost old-world feel about it.  And yet, if you sing the melody along with it… it still works.  Brilliant.

And one more for good measure…

“Time To Sleep” – Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus. (Available on CGMC’s Website) This original composition by CGMC Artistic Director Patrick Sinozich was featured in our Holiday concert in 2006 titled “Fa La La Blah Blah Blah.”  It features two soloists and the chorus in a gorgeous lullaby that closed out the show.  Simply put, one of the most beautiful melodies I’ve heard in a long time.  It was featured on our live Holiday CD, ‘Favorite Things.”  Check it out and hear for yourself.

And there you have it… 20 more “Definitive” songs for you to explore.  I’m interested to hear your input for other songs you think deserve the “Definitive” title.  Maybe they’ll show up on the 2010 list!

Play that funky music, white boy…

Last night I was tooling around YouTube, as I am oft to do, and I found this incredibly hot 70s slow jam that I’ve always loved.  I’ve been kind of obsessed with it ever since.

Gino Vannelli wasn’t a one-hit-wonder… he had a few hits in his day.  But he proved to the world that Italian white boys can, indeed, crank out a hot slow jam.  

This video has it all: big– and I mean HUGE– hair, a smokin’ backup girl vocal group, cheesy camera angles, chest hair, a screaming crowd, and a tenor sax.  I mean, does it really get better than this?

Hopefully this will help melt your winter blues a bit. 🙂

Definitive Holiday Songs

Each Holiday season, we are inundated with new releases by semi-new or washed-up artists trying to capitalize on the Holiday music phenomenon. And each year, many of these recordings either fade into the woodwork of bland reproductions of the same tired carols. But sometimes a shining star emerges and, while the entire album may not be full of hits, there is one beautifully performed number that stands out. Over time, this performance can emerge as what I like to call the “Definitive” version of that song.

Here, then, is my current list of Definitive Holiday Songs – the versions that, unlike no other, are the ones that make the song a true Holiday classic. Of course, this list is purely objective; so I encourage you to share your own personal list of Definitive Holiday Songs.

Here we go, in no particular order (links go to iTunes, unless otherwise noted):

1. The Christmas Song – Nat (King) Cole: The ultimate. Nothing can or will top this version, though many have tried. Cole’s soothing, silky baritone, coupled with the cascading strings and cool jazz band make this a holiday classic that can never be topped. One listen, and you know – it’s Christmastime.

2. O Holy Night – Johnny Mathis: As religious-themed carols go, this one is particularly majestic. Mathis’ soaring tenor, against Percy Faith’s stellar orchestra, define the beauty of this carol, yet they do it without being overly treacly or sappy. I’ve loved this version since I was a kid, and it still gives me goose bumps even today.

3. Jingle Bells – Ray Conniff and the Singers: It’s pretty simple sing-along fare, but I have yet to find a more complete version (4 verses!) of this song, and something about the arrangement just perfectly conveys the joy of jingling along in a sleigh when the snow is on the ground. Not that I’ve ever done that before, of course…

4. Silent Night – Mannheim Steamroller: The Steamroller has gotten a little rusty over the years, but this, from the first of their Christmas offerings, is probably the most moving and stunning versions of the carol I’ve ever heard.

5. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen/We Three Kings-  Barenaked Ladies and Sarah MacLachlan: This bouncy, free-spirited mashup came out a couple years ago and was the big hit of the season– and there’s a good reason why. It’s melodic and catchy, and still defines for me what the songs represent. Plus the joining of BNL and MacLachlan is perfect. I wish they’d do more together.

6. Merry Christmas Darling- Carpenters: The story goes that Karen and Richard Carpenter were students of Frank Pooler in the 1960s, and he gave the lyrics to “Merry Christmas, Darling,” which he had written in the 1940s, to Richard in hopes he could write a melody that suited them. The result is a beautiful Christmas classic that has long stood the test of time and will stand for many years to come. Karen’s vocals are stunning here. Frankly, anything that can help secure the legacy of the Carpenters is a gem in my eyes.

7. Step Into Christmas- Elton John: In the mid-70s, Elton John could do no wrong… so why wouldn’t he write a Christmas song? While some parts of the songs are a tad outdated (“Hop aboard my turntable,” for instance), the song still sounds fresh and fun even today.

8. Sweet Little Jesus Boy- Mahalia Jackson: Reverent and stirring, this spiritual carol is at once sparse and yet full of joy and wonder. Ms. Jackson’s voice is rich and booming; powerful, yet soothing. The chorus behind her is a little saccharine, but Mahalia makes up for it with her power.

9. Star of Wonder- The Roches: Relatively unknown, I first heard this song when I sang it with the Windy City Slickers a few years ago. The harmonies are stunning and thrilling- reminiscent of Imogen Heap- and the melody is beautiful. This SHOULD be a Christmas classic.

10. The Little Drummer Boy- Harry Simeone Chorale: The original and best, and no matter how many times this song is covered, none will ever touch this version.

11. Sleigh Ride – Arthur Fiedler & The Boston Pops: Originally written as an instrumental by Leroy Anderson in 1948; the Boston Pops version is, and will always be, the definitive version of this song. The lyrics, written two years later in 1950, suit the song well, but I prefer to hear it without the lyrics. I get a better image of the song’s meaning that way.

12. Little St. Nick – The Beach Boys: Who would have guessed that The Beach Boys- the surfin’ guys from California- would have created such a Christmas classic? It’s one of those songs that just can’t be done by anyone else without sounding like a really bad idea.

13. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree- Brenda Lee: This song was probably controversial and even banned when it first came out, but today it’s as much a classic as “Silent Night” or “Jingle Bells.” Which reminds me, this one is often paired with….

14. Jingle Bell Rock- Bobby Helms: Although more “Rockabilly” than “Rock,” this has become a massive classic, and has been covered by countless artists over the years, including Hall and Oates, who had a minor hit with the song in the 80’s. But nothing compares to the original.

15. Mele Kalikimaka- Bing Crosby: A Hawaiian Christmas song? Of course! I’ve always enjoyed this sweet tune, and of course, nobody sings it like Bing (with the Andrews Sisters!)

16. White Christmas- Bing Crosby: The Voice of Christmas himself still owns the title to the definitive version of “White Christmas.” Nobody else can deliver those lines with such power.

17. The Twelve Days of Christmas- John Denver with The Muppets: The first time Miss Piggy sings, “Five… Goooolden… Riiings… Badum Bum Bum…” you know you’ve got a classic on your hands. This song is dreadfully boring without the voices of Jim Henson, Frank Oz and the rest of the Muppet Crew holding it up and making it FUN again!!!

18. Christmas Time Is Here- Vince Guaraldi: A Charlie Brown Christmas and its soundtrack have become such a staple of Christmas music, it’s hard to imagine there was a time before it ever existed. Guaraldi’s jazzy, quiet arrangements and his incredible piano work are heard throughout the special and this album, and make this one of the all-time greats of Christmastime.

19. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! – Doris Day: America’s sweetheart sounds particularly sexy and sultry here… a tinkling piano and a jazzy arrangement make this holiday standard about more than just snow – it’s about romance and cuddling up with someone special. Now to find that someone special…

20. Santa Baby- Eartha Kitt: When it comes to sultry and sexy, nobody does it like Eartha Kitt… and nobody does Santa Baby like Ms. Kitt, either. The song was written for her and it shows. Growl!

And just for good measure…

21. Little Jack Frost- Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus (featuring a solo by Rick Aiello): (Amazon only) This holiday swing classic, first recorded by Frankie Carle in the 1940s, is done by CGMC with a vocal arrangement by Patrick Sinozich and a solo by some guy who writes in his blog every once in a while.  🙂

So that’s my list. There are others which could easily have made it, but I’m interested to hear what you have to say. Enjoy the music and have a Happy Holiday! 🙂