Song: Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday
Album: The Original Soul Christmas
Performer: William Bell
Writer: William Bell, Booker T. Jones
Year: 1968 (song release), 1995 (album release)
This album is full of the best soul artists and their renditions of Christmas classics. This particular selection is an original song by William Bell with instrumental arrangements by Booker T. Jones. I’m not usually a fan of artists writing their own Christmas songs, but this one definitely works. You just can’t go wrong with good soul vocals and impeccable horn arrangements from such a huge name in soul music.
Song: Step Into Christmas
Album: Caribou (1994 remastered re-issue)
Performer: Elton John
Writer: Elton John, Bernie Taupin
This song was a single in Elton John’s “Yellow Brick Road” era. It’s a poppy 70’s Christmas song that manages to be really fun without being too terribly corny. My favorite part of the song is the turn around into the second verse. There is a keyboard part that sounds like 8-bit sound effects for a video game. I love this song because it’s classic Elton John and a simply enjoyable Christmas tune.
Song: Let it Snow/The Last Christmas Medley You’ll Ever Need to Hear
Album: Christmas the Cowboy Way
Performer: Riders in the Sky
Writer: Jule Styne, Sammie Cahn
I’ve listened to Riders in the Sky play music “the cowboy way” since 2007 when one of my teachers suggested that I might enjoy them. They bring their cowboy wit, charm, and superb musicianship to this unique Christmas album. This track lives up to it’s name which boasts that it’s “the last Christmas medley you’ll ever need to hear.” It uses ‘Let it Snow’ as the vehicle for 14 of the most popular Christmas songs. The first round through is instrumental, so it’s a test of your Christmas song knowledge. The next time through they utilize their classic vocal harmonies to help you out with the snippets that may have gone by a little too fast. Enjoy this 15-songs-in-one treat today!
Song: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Album: Jingle All the Way
Performer: Béla Fleck & the Flecktones
Writer: Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin
The Flecktones are a collection of some of the most innovative and inspired musicians living. The core group includes the Wooten brothers and Jeff Coffin with Béla Fleck at the helm. The band creates music which bends genres and features musicians who take their instruments to the cutting edge of what can be done musically. It was a complete joy for me to find this album four years ago. I remember first listening to this particular song at my parents house when I was home for my first Christmas break from college. I had it blasting over their computer speakers for a week straight. There is something infectiously joyful about their take on the melody with the instruments trading off each note. I can’t ever listen to this song just once.
Song: Christmas in New Orleans
Album: Christmas Through the Years
Performer: Louis Armstrong With Benny Carter’s Orchestra
Writer: Dick Sherman, Joe Van Winkle
I spent the week before Christmas last year visiting my grandparents in Gulfport, Mississippi. We took a vacation within a vacation to New Orleans at the tail end of my visit. I spent one of the days there roaming the streets on my own and fell in love with the city. I was blown away by the unique architecture and by the age and character of the city. Highlights of that day included having my palm read and speaking at length to the shopkeeper of a local bookstore. The moment that will be burned in my memory is a picturesque view of the St. Louis Cathedral at dusk against the backdrop of twinkling Christmas lights, decorations, and horse drawn carriages. The city will forever live as part of a beautiful winter fantasy for me.
Today I’ll leave you with a sweet Christmas poem by e e cummings which pairs beautifully with this Stevie Wonder tune:
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower
who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly
i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid
look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,
put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy
then when you’re quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!
oh but you’ll be very proud
and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we’ll dance and sing
e e cummings
The Dial, Vol. LXVIII, No. 1 (Jan. 1920)
Album: A Charlie Brown Christmas
Performer: Vince Guaraldi Trio
Writer: Vince Guaraldi
There are two programs that my family must watch at some point every year leading up to Christmas. Those are Frank Capra’s beautiful film “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Both capture the beauty, wonder, and humanity of the holiday season but Charlie Brown has a much better soundtrack. I’ve always been enamored with the scene where all the children are skating. The music in the background is aptly titled “Skating.” Guaraldi’s piano sounds like a waterfall in this piece that I always imagine is flowing with glittering ice.
Song: Sleigh Ride
Album: Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas
Performer: Ella Fitzgerald
Writer: Leroy Anderson, Mitchell Parish
Most everyone has heard the Christmas classic “Sleigh Ride.” The arrangement most commonly played in stores and on the radio is the Leroy Anderson orchestration played by the Boston Pops Orchestra. I have played this arrangement in orchestras multiple times over the years. It’s a mainstay of Christmas playlists, but my personal favorite rendition of the song is sung by the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald along with Russ Garcia and his orchestra offer up a laid back performance of the song that more than lives up to Ella’s gracious offer of a swinging Christmas.
Song: Silver Bells
Album: White Christmas
Performer: Bing Crosby, Carol Richards
Writer: Ray Evans, Jay Livingston
Bing Crosby is another Christmas king. You’ll know him from the classic film “White Christmas.” The song silver bells is one of my favorite Christmas tunes and was first recorded in 1950 by Crosby as a duet with Carol Richards. It’s a bit of a fluke that this ended up being one of my favorites. I remember singing it in 6th grade choir and I just fell in love.
Song: Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)
Album: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Performer: Gene Autry
Writer: Gene Autry (lyricist), Oakley Haldeman (composer)
Could there be a better voice to open the Christmas season than Gene Autry? This crooning cowboy was responsible for a few of the most popular Christmas songs ever written. His 1947 album is a piece of history; featuring the debut of his Christmas songs that are full of his Western charm and lush string arrangements.