Here at Hypergraffiti, Christmas will be brought to you by reruns. This post about my favourite Christmas songs never stirred up the same amount of discussion and controversy as the one I re-ran the other day about worst Christmas songs, but I didn’t want to be a total scrooge about Christmas music, so here are some I love:
1. The Seven Joys of Mary, as performed by Great Big Sea. I’m not planning to rank these songs in any kind of order, but there’s no doubt this is the #1 Christmas favourite in our house. It’s our most-played, most-sung, most-enjoyed tune of the holidays, and I think our kids knew all the words by the time they were three. Celebrating Mary the Mother of Jesus as it does, it’s unlikely to ever be a top Christmas song in our very Protestant church, but it’s the most celebratory, catchy, infectious tune I can imagine. If you’ve never heard it before, you can remedy that deficiency at once by listening here.
2. What Child is This? This is probably my very favourite of the more-or-less traditional carols, and it’s hard to imagine a really bad version — the tune is so lovely I like it in almost any rendition. For years my favourite version was John Denver’s, but lately my allegiance has been given to yet another Newfoundland band, Shanneyganock, who do an awesome version of this song. Just to make this a two-for-one plug, Shanneyganock also perform “We Three Kings” like you’ve never heard it before. As I wrote somewhere else, they make it sound like the Magi stopped into the Bethlehem Lounge for a few beers before heading to the stable … if I say it sounds like a Christmas carol as Irish drinking song, that makes it seem like it’s rowdy and unmusical, but it’s not at all. On both these songs, lead singer Chris Andrews has this amazing voice that manages to be both raucous and moving, and very, very musical. I wish I could link to a sound or video clip but I couldn’t find one online … so if you want to know what I mean, you may just have to buy their Christmas album.
3. The Boy From the Woods. A lovely little song that should be more widely known. Cape Breton singer-songwriter Bruce Guthro performs this modern-day carol about a random act of kindness performed by a mysterious stranger. I absolutely love this, and you might too if you click here.
4. Christmas at Ground Zero. Okay, enough with the sacred, the sweet and the traditional for a moment — clear the stage for the one and only Weird Al Yankovic, who performs this completely off-the-wall cheery Christmas jingle about a nuclear bomb attack on Christmas day. Watch the video here.
5. Santa Claus is Coming to Town … but only as performed by Bruce Springsteen. I never liked this song until I heard The Boss doing it back in the 80s and suddenly … my eyes were opened. This totally makes me want to rock around the Christmas tree (as “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” does not!) And it makes me feel like I’m on the naughty list — but I’m getting presents anyway. Can’t beat that. If you want to hear it, there are some clips of him performing it live on YouTube but I don’t really like any of them … here’s someone’s Christmas slide show set to the album version of the song.
Moral of the story: some songs only sound good when you rock them up. This is also true of our next selection…
6. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus … but only as performed by John Cougar Mellencamp (or John Cougar … or John Mellencamp … or whatever he’s calling himself these days). Another song that’s just awful in most versions but totally cool when the right 80s rocker gets hold of it. Although, doesn’t it sound like he’s singing “…down the stairs to take a leak“?? I always think so. Check out John-Whatever-Whatever performing it live here.
7. The Huron Carol, especially if performed by Tom Jackson. Known as “Canada’s first Christmas carol,” the original was written by a French missionary in the 1600s to teach the story of Christ to First Nations people. The English words date from the early 20th century and are not exactly a translation of the original — more an attempt to re-imagine the story of Jesus in images more familiar to Canadian aboriginals. In recent years by Tom Jackson, a Canadian First Nations actor and singer has made the song the centrepiece of his annual “Huron Carol” Christmas concert tour to raise money for food banks. I grew up listening to my dad sing this song and loved it, but Jackson’s deep, resonant voice gives it an unforgettable quality and I’m truly sorry I cannot find a version of it online to share with you.
8. Mary, Did You Know? best performed by the person who wrote it, Mark Lowry. I will never forget the first time I heard this song. I was at a Gaithers concert, and Mark Lowry was playing the funny man as he generally did in their shows — making jokes, making fun of Bill Gaither, generally cracking up the crowd. Then he took the mike for a solo and said he was going to sing a song he wrote himself … and started singing “Mary Did You Know?” much as you see it here. A hush fell over the crowded stadium and I’m pretty sure everyone there had the goosebumps I did. There are many great versions of this song by “Various Artists”; in my own little corner of the world I like to hear my dad sing this in church at Christmas, and last week a student of mine picked up the guitar at school and busted out an amazing version of this … but Mark Lowry does it best.
9. Fairytale of New York, by The Pogues. Not everyone’s cup of hot chocolate, but those who like this song like it a lot, and I love it. It’s another “I can still recall the first time I heard it” song for me — it was on a newly-purchased cassette tape; it wasn’t even Christmas; I was listening while driving and I almost had to pull over because the song brought tears to my eyes. Twenty years later it still does it for me. This song recently achieved a new notoriety when the BBC threatened to bleep out some of the offensive words for radio play (they backed down under public pressure). It’s the absolutely haunting and depressing tale of two down-and-out losers blaming each other for the fact that Christmas, and indeed life, haven’t turned out as they hoped. The combination of Shane MacGowan’s authentically drunken slurring and Kirsty MacColl’s angelic voice creates a sad kind of Christmas magic. You can watch the video here.
Special! Bonus! Track! I couldn’t think of one song from this album to put on my list, so I have a special category for my favourite Christmas album ever. Barenaked for the Holidays, by the Barenaked Ladies, is just a lovely, cute, cheeky, sweet, funny album. It’s the only Christmas album I can put on and play from beginning to end without having to skip any songs. It includes great takes on traditional carols, terrific original songs (especially including “An Elf’s Lament,” about unfair working conditions at the North Pole), the truly bizarre (the phrase “Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young” sung over and over to the tune of “Deck the Halls), and even some Hanukkah songs — in fact “Hanukkah Blessings” was my favourite “holiday song” throughout Christmas last year. They even do a take on “Do They Know It’s Christmas Time?” that might redeem the song for everyone but Tina. Hear some clips and be tempted to buy the album! This CD is the gem of my Christmas collection and when it’s playing, I’m always in the Christmas spirit.
Whatever you’re listening to over the next few days I hope it makes you happy, and that you have a wonderful celebration. God bless us every one.