Today we're discussing the "classic" Christmas songs -- stuff that you hear on the radio and over mall loudspeakers beginning in, like, September and continuing until mid-January or so. Before I get to my list, though, I will start with a complaint: Dear Mall Muzak People, Halloween is really too early to start playing holiday music. Let's wait until after Thanksgiving, k? Thxbai.
So anyway. Most of the music I actually listen to falls into this "Christmas classics" category, because (1) there are only so many times you can listen to the Hallelujah Chorus and Trepak before you want to stab yourself in the eye with an umbrella, and (2) let's just come right out and admit that a lot of "modern" holiday songs are kind of ass. I mean, really, if I never hear "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" again in my life, I will still have heard it far too many times already.
What I tend to like about this group of songs, generally from the 1940's-1950's-1960's or so (I believe one of the latest of these was first recorded in 1970, which is about where I draw the line between "classic" and "contemporary"), is that they are generally festive and happy and light (with only a few exceptions) and -- this is where I get myself into trouble -- are usually more about the holiday spirit and less about the religious background of the season. Some of these songs don't even specifically mention Christmas, so if you are racked with liberal Catholic guilt at this time of year, as I often am, you don't have to feel "ashamed" of singing these tunes loud and proud and terribly off-key.
(What do they call these? First-world problems?)
Without further ado, here is my list of the Top Ten Classic Christmas songs on my iPod right now (again, in no particular order):
- "Baby, It's Cold Outside" -- We'll start here because this one is in very heavy rotation right now. I think that at this very moment, this is Shae's favorite Christmas song. She likes to sing the "girl" part and she always wants me to "be that boy," and I'm totally okay with that because I usually think the traditionally "male" part is more funner, anyway. I have two versions that I rely on: the one that features Dean Martin and whoever, and lately the version from the Elf soundtrack sung by Zooey Deschanel and Leon Redbone. (Oh and by the way, I hope my kid is good and old before she realizes that this song is actually about secret Christmas Eve nookie.)
- "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" -- Oh, sweet cracker sandwich. The loveliest and most depressing of all Christmas songs ever known to man, isn't it? Positively heartbreaking, especially if you are prone to bouts of seasonal affective disorder and general maudlin-ness, as I am. "But at least we all will be together, if the fates allow / From now on we'll have to muddle through somehow." Another song where I have multiple favorite renditions: the Frank Sinatra one, the Rowlf-and-John-Denver one, and of course the Judy Garland version.
- "Christmas Time Is Here" -- Again with the "Charlie Brown Christmas" soundtrack, but it keeps appearing because it's so damned good. I prefer the instrumental version of this song, but the original children's vocal version is great too, as is the cover by Sarah McLachlan. This one is just so perfectly bittersweet.
- "The Christmas Song" -- We grew up listening to the Nat "King" Cole version of this song, so it will always and forever be my favorite, but if you haven't already, check out a Mel Tormé recording. They didn't call that dude the "Velvet Fog" for nothing.
- "Mele Kalikimaka" -- I know all the words to this song, of course, and at one point I even had a little dance made up to go with it, a silly fake hula. This song rocks my world, and every year I wonder what it would be like to wake up on Christmas morning and go surfing at sunrise before opening my presents underneath a big palm terr. The Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters version is the best known, and probably the best ever.
- "I'll Be Home For Christmas" -- "If only in my dreams ..." I can't ever hear this song without crying. If you have sisters who live out of state that you think about every day in the month of December and beyond, then you probably can't listen to the Doris Day version without collapsing into a weeping heap. (What? Just me?)
- "Blue Christmas" -- Elvis Presley. Duuuuuuh.
- "Everybody's Waiting (For the Man with the Bag)" -- Thanks to Target commercials a few years ago, before there was even a Target store in my area, I discovered this little gem (along with the Brian Setzer Orchestra). I totally do the seat-butt dance when this one comes on. I am particularly partial to the Kay Starr version, even though I will totally 'fess up that the BSO version KICKS ELEVENTY KINDS OF ASS.
- "Merry Christmas Darling" -- True story: one year, when he was still at his old job, my husband had to spend basically the entire three weeks before Christmas in Rochester, working with designers and engineers and builders on some kind of auto-part-related waste-water-treatment something-or-other, and I seriously though I was going to DIE OF LONELINESS. Because Christmas can be TEH SUCK when it's a special time of year for the two of you, and one of you is out of town. (We started dating over Christmas Break from college in 1993, and have been together ever since.) I swear to God, if it were not for Karen Carpenter, I would never have made it through. I don't even bother listening to anybody's else's versions, because Karen's perfect.
- "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" -- That same year my husband and I started dating? We shared our first kiss on New Year's Eve. Even though I usually know what he's doing on New Year's Eve, I still like it when Ella Fitzgerald just goes ahead and asks the question.
You will be happy to see that there are a lot more women represented here. But I'm sure I missed something, right? Maybe what you were expecting will appear tomorrow, when I do the contemporary stuff, but feel free to tell me why I'm a total butthead with a tin ear in the comments.