Having a hard time finding really good holiday tunes? The Popculturist has some hints.
The beginning of the Christmas season is an eventful time in the Popculturist household. We decorate our Christmas tree. I drag the ladder out from the garage to hang the lights up on the eaves. And, of course, the radio dial moves over to the local soft rock station for the 24-hour holiday music. Whereupon I start grumbling and Mrs. Popculturist starts commenting on my Grinchiness.
The thing is, I do like Christmas music. Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, for example, is one of my favorite albums in any genre. And the warm, inviting tones of Nat King Cole’s voice in his rendition of “The Christmas Song” never fail to bring a smile to my face.
Still, I can’t deny that a lot of what gets airtime on that radio station does set my teeth on edge. There’s just something about hearing yet another flavor-of-the-week boy band massacring a classic that gets to me. And when I hear some over-the-hill pop star obviously milking the standards for an easy payday, I can’t help but feel cynical.
The other day as my family and I were coming home from a weekend outing, it occurred to me that nearly all of my favorite holiday songs are over 50 years old — it’s the newer stuff that makes me want to shout “Bah, Humbug!” And yet, there is always new music coming out that works for me, so the idea that the past couple of decades were dead to me as far as Christmas music goes just seemed wrong. There had to be something there for me, music snob though I may be.
As it happened, my knowledge of recent Christmas music was completely exhausted well before I finished the list, but armed with Internet streaming services like Pandora and Last.fm, I was finally able to put together this somewhat incongruous list:
1. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings”
Barenaked Ladies, featuring Sarah McLachlan
A fun twist on two holiday classics, with an innovative arrangement and some great harmonies.
2. “Hanukkah Blessings”
Alright, maybe picking two songs from the same album is pushing it a bit, but Barenaked for the Holidays is easily my favorite holiday album of the decade, and these two songs stand out equally for me.
3. “All I Want For Christmas Is You”
I’m not normally particularly into Mariah Carey but this song is infectiously upbeat and catchy, and what with all the mopey Christmas music out there, we could do with a few more like this.
4.“O Holy Night”
Groban’s work is hit-or-miss for me, by turns soaring and schlocky. But when you pair his pop-opera voice with a beautiful classic like this one, magic happens.
5. “White Christmas”
It’s kind of a sleepy take on Bing Crosby’s biggest hit, but even though it’s a bit downtempo, it comes off more wistful than emo, and that works for me.
6. “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”
Stevens is a master of layering songs, and the way this one starts sparsely but builds into something potent yet deceptively simple is a perfect example of that talent.
7. “The Christmas Song”
Feeney’s stripped-down sound reminded me of a living-room sing-a-long with friends, and while Nat King Cole’s version is still the definitive one in my book, there’s definitely something comfortable about this one.
8. “Hibernation Day”
Jars of Clay
I hadn’t heard of this group or this song before setting out on this quest, but cozy imagery and cute pop melody made me smile, and the lead singer has a very nice voice for this kind of music.
9. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”
Zooey Deschanel and Leon Redbone
You may recognize this one from the closing credits of the 2003 movie Elf. Zooey Deschanel’s retro stylings makes a great match with Leon Redbone’s folksy baritone, and the bluesy instrumental arrangement is one of my favorites.
10. “Ain’t No Time of Year to Be Alone”
Another new one to me, Mark Erelli’s blues-folk instrumental style and the jaunty melody caught my attention immediately. The song turned out to be good enough to make me want to investigate the artist further.
And there we are: 10 relatively recent holiday songs that I really liked. Of course, if there’s one thing I know about music — especially Christmas music — it’s that one man’s gem is another man’s finger-on-a-chalkboard.
So tell me, what are some of your recent faves?
“Santa plays guitar” Unknown
“Charlie Brown Christmas” Charles M. Schultz