Thursday, December 8, 2016

My Favorite Things: Christmas songs and singers

You're on one side of the holly-and-ivy, Christmas music fence, or you're grimacing, arms folded on the other....or, yes, you're that one standing on the rails above, belting out the tunes on road trips and light-viewing expeditions, caroling even though you don't have the foggiest idea what wassail or figgy pudding is or why Jesus and Mary came sailing in on ships of three.
(December 2013)

Those of us belting out the Christmas tunes ( starting in November) have our favorite songs performed by favorite artists, and we won't hesitate to defend what we believe is the "greatest rendition". Here are some of my favorite holiday songs and Christmas carols sung by both contemporary and legendary performers:

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas"

Frank Sinatra

I think a great vocal gift is especially highlighted by simple and restrained arrangements, and this is how I feel about The Sinatra Christmas Album. I asked to borrow it from a teacher in middle school after I found a cassette version while helping to clean her home office. I have good memories of listening to it by the Christmas tree, Sinatra's voice making me feel more than a little wistful during these two beautiful songs especially.

Michael Buble

Listening to Buble's voice is like being wrapped in layers of silk: soft, luxurious and soothing.

James Taylor

Want to become wistful again while at the same time feeling comforted by a favorite uncle? Listen to Taylor and his guitar.

"Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire"

Nat King Cole

Who can beat that voice, like clouds of perfectly whipped cream on a satiny custard pie? With this song, no one can.

Michael Buble

Oh, am I mentioning this gentleman again? The silk thing, you know.

The Carpenters

I think my dad believes there was never a woman blessed with a finer voice than Karen Carpenter. He may very well be right. If Buble's voice is silk, then Carpenter's is lush velvet.

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings"

Barenaked Ladies with Sarah Maclachlan

If you were stranded at a mountain cabin for the holidays with talented musicians and great vocalists and everyone pulled out their instruments and began to sing carols, this is what it would sound like. The arrangement and tempo are interesting, and of course Maclachlan's voice is absolutely captivating and gorgeous on "We Three Kings". It is one of my favorite versions of any Christmas song or medley ever.

"O Holy Night"

Celine Dion

I once cried over a glass of wine when Dion's version came over the radio after supper. My husband and I were in the dining room, overhead lights low, the advent wreath lit in the center of our table.

Dion does this classic carol justice, avoiding vocal acrobatics that dilute the lyrics. The choir of children in the background only amplifies her annunciation of its message. It's a crystalline version.

"White Christmas"

Bing Crosby

Was there ever a man born with richer resonance in his voice? There's a reason we will listen to Crosby sing "White Christmas" every year.

The Drifters

Yes, it will always remind you of Home Alone, but have you encountered a more whimiscal version, one that makes you feel this peppy and carefree while listening to a group of singers with such vastly different but complementary tones? I haven't. They had me at doo-wop!


  1. I love the Drifters version too, so fun! Michael Buble has a voice "like butta" as Mike Myers would say on SNL's coffee talk skit. Love him.I adore Mariah Carey's first Christmas album with its gospel flair. Especially her gospel version of silent night. I also enjoy Pentatonix and She & Him's Christmas stuff.

    1. She and Him? I don't think I've ever heard of them. I do enjoy Pentatonix quite a bit, too. Thanks, Holly, for sharing your favorites!


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