There are things I do every year, neighborhoods I drive through, houses whose decorations I look for, trees put up in public places, just out of a sense of holiday tradition. They are unique to me, though I’m sure some of my traditions overlap with other peoples’. It’s a small world, after all.
More important than the sights of the season, to me, are the sounds. There are certain holiday tunes that, unless I hear them, it’s not Christmas for me yet. I’ve compiled a list of what is probably the bulk of those songs. If I do this again next year, there might be a few changes, but I can’t imagine it would be more drastic than that. These are fairly iron clad.
In no particular order…
1. It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Andy Williams
The first time I ever heard this tune was in sixth grade when we had to learn it in chorus. I still have trouble reconciling scary ghost stories with a Christmas song, but maybe it was just prophetic of how much the holiday season has encroached upon Halloween.
My own personal War on Christmas aside, I like this tune. It was probably Andy Williams’ “Freebird,” with tipsy octogenarians shouting out requests for the classic Christmas tune at every Andy Williams concert.
2. There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays – Perry Como
Also in the arena of classic Christmas tunes is this gem from Perry Como. If you discount the square-ish chorus section in the middle (it must have been really difficult to get choral backup singers to groove in that decade…swinging ’60s, my ass), this tune is very playful, with its use of percussion toys to underscore the joviality of packing the family into a station wagon for a five-hour trek to grandma and grandpa’s, listening to the Carpenters’ “Christmas Portrait” album over and over again, while your little brother can’t keep his feet to himself.
I think I even heard a brake drum.
Most of all, I like the brass build up at the very end. It’s those few measures that are the fanfare ushering in the holiday season for me.
And speaking of the Carpenters…
3. Merry Christmas Darling – The Carpenters
Far be it for me to call Karen Carpenter sexy, but her voice certainly is in this holiday love letter. If I was a swingin’ bachelor in the 1970s, and I was trying to corner the last available, sober woman at my holiday fondue party, this is the track I’d play on the hi-fi. Come on! The tune has a mellow sax solo in it. That’s better than booze. If fabric isn’t hitting the floor, or the chandelier, or the ceiling fan blades, you might want to reconsider your taste in women (or men, depending on your persuasion). “Sax” is just one vowel away from something that can be equally noisy and offensive, if done right. It was named that way by design. Look it up!
4. The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole
From smooth and sultry to sweet and innocent. My appreciation of this Mel Torme classic, sung and immortalized by Nat King Cole, originated in the early 1990s. I was home from college for Christmas vacation, up late on Christmas Eve attempting to write (some things never change) and “The Christmas Song” came on the radio. The first few bars – the piano followed by the strings – brought to mind the visual of snow blowing around in the wind and Santa driving his sleigh through the quiet night sky. I still think of that every time I hear the tune. If I can hear it on Christmas Eve, that’s just a bonus. I’m crossing my fingers for that this year.
5. All I Want for Christmas is You – Mariah Carey
I’ll freely admit I’m a pig, and this tune proves it. If Raphie Parker has his soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window, I have Mariah Carey in a form-fitting red snowsuit against the backdrop of a lovely winter’s majesty. I make no apologies for it. MTV was born during my childhood, so, yes, I sometimes associate music with music videos. At least back then they still played videos on MTV, but I digress.
I would sometimes, in my college addled brain, imagine Mariah Carey, or a similarly curvaceous songstress, singing this to me. I’m not getting any younger (and, let’s not kid ourselves, neither are you, Mariah), yet I still hold out hope that I might hit the lottery because, as Lawrence (Diedrich Bader) so eloquently put it in the movie “Office Space,” “if I had a million dollars, I could probably hook that up, tool; ’cause chicks dig dudes with money.”
I live in hope.
6. White Christmas – Bing Crosby
It’s the top-selling record of all time. I don’t really think I need to say anything more about this tune. It’s not Christmas without Bing-buh-buh-buh-buh.
The linked video is not the most famous recording of this, but it is my favorite, and it is from the first movie in which “White Christmas” was ever performed, the 1942 film “Holiday Inn.”
7. Same Auld Lang Syne – Dan Fogelberg
Take a musician’s chance encounter with a former flame at the market, add alcohol and a story about a marriage gone tepid and the resulting sexual tension can only be topped by…a sax solo!
Granted, this tune can be seen, by some folks who store their umbrellas in the number two excretion zone, as promoting public intoxication, and even driving under the influence. Infidelity is only vaguely flirted with, but I imagine on New Year’s Eve, shit happens. I like this tune for its story and for its somewhat wistful melody, and yes, the soulful sax rendition of Auld Lang Syne at the end, not performed by Guy Lombardo.
8. Celebrate Me Home – Kenny Loggins
Why is this song on my list? Probably because I’m a pussy.
No, that’s not it. It’s really nothing special. Once upon a time I thought about what it would be like to travel home for Christmas from much farther away than I currently live from my hometown. There was that reason, and also the fact that it took me a few listenings of this tune before I came to the realization that “hey…this is Kenny Loggins.” In terms of the holiday canon, he’s not as prolific as, say, Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra, so whenever you hear this song on the radio, even with holiday tunes broadcasting from the day after Halloween through Dec. 25, it’s like a little collector’s item.
9. Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Dean Martin
I have to begin my remarks on this tune by lambasting the version done by Michael Buble and Idina Menzel, in which they rewrote some of the lyrics to make it more “kid friendly.” Because that’s exactly what we need in this country – to have a decent example of consenting adults enjoying a little musical foreplay watered down for the under-8 crowd. In case anyone was wondering, “kid friendly” is one of the reasons we can’t have nice things.
If you want to read about the G-rated version or see the video, go here. I assure you, it’s quite SFW.
For the record, I have an 8-year-old nephew and an infant niece, whom I love dearly. That doesn’t mean I want to get rid of adult swim. Again, I digress.
Dean-o really shines in this arrangement, backed by a chorus of what must have been women who were rejected by Ray Conniff for having too much personality. I can picture it clearly: Dean walking onstage, looking sharp in a black tuxedo, holding a solid glass of liquid that looks like it might be bourbon and a lit cigarette…in the same hand! He’s flanked on either side by the glitziest, leggiest showgirls you’ve ever seen, trying to convince each of them that it’s just too damned cold to leave his pad and that they ought to, for safety’s sake, stay the night. Isn’t that thoughtful?
And for those of you who want to believe that this song is about date rape, please don’t infect me with your stupidity.
10. O, Christmas Tree – Vince Guaraldi Trio
I’ve never liked the traditional version of “O Christmas Tree” (or O Tannenbaum or whatever title you ascribe to it according to your nationality), because I just couldn’t get into the lyrics. It’s amazing, though, what chucking the lyrics and giving the tune over to a jazz trio will do to my attitude. It’s very smooth, very mellow and effortless to listen to. The players keep it simple. The solos are very tasteful and not excessively showy. I’ve not heard this one yet this year, and I find that I’m missing it.
And, yes, this list goes to 11. It’s one louder, isn’t it?
11. The Christmas Waltz – Nancy Wilson
I first heard this tune many years ago on a Rhino Records recording called “Christmas Cocktails,” which was a compilation of jazzy Christmas standards performed by names like Lena Horne, Wayne Newton, and Les Brown and His Band of Renown. This album was also instrumental in introducing me to the voice of Nancy Wilson, which I can only describe as musical sex. This is a waltz in the academic sense. It’s in 3/4 time, but that’s about it. The arrangement, and Ms. Wilson take expressive liberties with the tempo, and it becomes a seduction between the musicians and the listener.
That’s a very long-winded way of saying “I would totally make out to this song.”