Patterico's Pontifications


Not So Silent Night: Great Christmas Tunes

Filed under: General — JVW @ 8:02 pm

[guest post by JVW]

Since I began guest blogging here at the kind invitation of our host lo those many years ago, I have always intended to write a post at Christmastime on my favorite Christmas music. Yet I have never quite figured out how to pull it off. I now own upwards of one hundred different Christmas albums and have Christmas songs by probably two hundred (or more) different artists, so a post of this sort runs the risk that I would drone on and on in my exasperating way. I’ve used this as an excuse for inaction, but this time around I’m just going to plunge in with some random reflections on the Yuletide tunes that I like. I encourage commenters to supply your own favorites.

Favorite Christmas Album that Perhaps No One Else Here Owns
Freddy Fender was a big deal in my hometown when I was a kid growing up. He regular came to play a concert at the Colorado State Fair, and both “Wasted Days and Wasted Night” and, especially, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” played constantly on AM radio when I was a boy. I was thus thrilled when I found his Christmas album on a CD printing about thirty years ago. His cheapskate producer, Huey Meaux, didn’t want to go to the expense of licensing popular Christmas tunes, so Freddy was stuck with the second and third tier of seasonal classics, songs like “Please Come Home for Christmas,” “Love Gets Better at Christmas,” and “Santa! Don’t Pass Me By.” But with the great Freddy Fender voice, even the most mediocre of tunes can sound sublime, as witnessed by this stellar rendition of the Lee Emerson-Mickey Moody written classic “I’ll Be on the Chimney (When Santa Comes Tonight).”

The Christmas Album That You Might Think Would Be Ridiculous But Is Actually Kind of Beautiful
Oh sure, we all know that Slim Whitman saved the Earth with his yodeling, but apart from that I didn’t have much interest in “Rose Marie” or “Indian Love Song.” But about three years ago I came across his Christmas album and bought it on a lark. Slim Whitman was a humble man of strong faith, and his singing on the album is heartfelt and touching. The link above is the entire album available on YouTube, but here is a direct link to my favorite song on the album, his rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Fun note: the late Pete Drake, whose pedal steel guitar work I so admired on All Things Must Pass plays on this album.

Christmas Album with the Best Album Cover
Gotta be Frank Sinatra’s Christmas Dreaming. This seems kind of provocative for 1957: her nightgown is perhaps a little too sheer, especially with her sitting so close to the window with that light shining through. Subsequent re-releases of the album on cassette tape and CD swapped this cover for a more conventional one, yet there is no denying the ring-a-ding-ding attitude in this beauty.


Christmas Album with the Best Album Cover (Runner-Up)
The King of Cool, Dean Martin, released A Winter Romance in November 1959, two years after his pal Frank gave us Christmas Dreams. The cover art is of Dino at a ski resort in a tight embrace with a comely redhead, while furtively making goo-goo-eyes with a very shapely blond.

Dean Martin Winter Romance

Best Version of a Religious Hymn
My favorite Christmas hymn is “O Holy Night,” a mid-nineteenth century French carol composed by Adolphe Adam and given English lyrics a few years later by Unitarian minister and music critic John Sullivan Dwight of Boston. Several great singers have come up with stellar versions of the song, including Jerry Vale, Al Green, the late great Charlie Pride, Mario Lanza, and others, but the best one I have heard is by the fantastic Lou Rawls, such a magnificent human being that he landed a recurring role on Baywatch Nights. Unlike Jerry Vale (whose version is the second best), Lou sings the song’s moving second verse which in this case makes all the difference.

Best Version of a Secular Christmas Song Which I Otherwise Don’t Really Like
I’ve never really warmed to “The Christmas Song,” hoary old classic though it may be. Part of it is that I just have never been able to appreciate Mel Torme, the song’s author, whose jazz/scat style just isn’t up my alley. And as far as the song itself goes, I don’t find it too interesting either melodically or lyrically. That said, the version of the song on the Temptations’ 1980 album Give Love on Christmas Day, one of the best Christmas albums around, is fantastic. The song is played at a faster tempo than typical versions, and the original bland backing is replaced by a funky rhythm perfect for Richard Street’s lead vocal and the backing harmonies, especially Melvin Franklin’s bass which knocks it out of the park on the third verse.

Best Novelty Christmas Song
I’m not big on “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” or “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” or a lot of those har-dee-har-har or cloying songs. But I do get a kick out of a song by comedy/lounge act Richard Cheese, who some years back wrote and recorded a clever ditty called “Christmas in Las Vegas.” I think I mostly like it because I conned my family into spending Christmas of 1992 at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, which actually turned out to be a whole lot of fun.

I’m going to call it a night here, and maybe come back to this topic next year (God willing). Merry Christmas to all who are celebrating, and Season’s Greetings to those who are not. Here’s wishing you a restful day tomorrow if you are off, and extending sincere thanks to those of you will be going in to work.


19 Responses to “Not So Silent Night: Great Christmas Tunes”

  1. And to all a good night.

    JVW (30a532)

  2. Oh, what a fun and informative post. Quite an eclectic selection of artists, and a few I’ve never heard of too. I was listening to Ella Fitzgerald sing Christmas carols today. The great Satchmo joined her on a few and I was in heaven.

    Anyway, Merry Christmas to you, JVW, and all the friends here in our little community.

    PS, I like to think of a “ring a ding attitude” more like a cool joie de vivre that even a pandemic can’t stifle.

    Dana (cc9481)

  3. Merry Christmas, JVW, Dana, and everyone else. I, too, bid you all a good night.

    felipe (630e0b)

  4. The Little Drummer Boy has been my favorite Christmas song for more than fifty years, followed by John Lennon’s So This Is Christmas.

    Merry Christmas, everybody!

    nk (1d9030)

  5. Mrs. Montagu and I just saw The Preacher’s Wife. You know it’s a good movie when it hits you different ways at different stages of your life, and this movie did it for us, surprisingly.
    This time around, we were most empathetic with the grandmother and preacher. The other part that resonated, more than expected, was the music. It was beautiful. It struck an emotional vibe, mostly because Ms. Houston was a phenomenal talent and this movie was the perfect vehicle for her. It was also poignant, knowing that she was three years younger than us but eight years dead.
    Merry Christmas all. God bless.

    Paul Montagu (77c694)

  6. Santa clause is coming to town sung by the Boss. Next rocking around the christmas tree by Brenda lee two best christmas tune to listen too on the radio driving home christmas eve.

    asset (7fd601)

  7. Sia made a very catchy and melodic Christmas album 3 seasons ago. Ho Ho Ho is my favorite from that one. Alas, the Aussie singer is in the crosshairs because of statements perceived to be derogatory to those with autism.

    urbanleftbehind (a6c8cb)

  8. He is born. Merry Christmas.

    Thank you for the post JVW.

    NJRob (eb56c3)

  9. wint

    its f**ked up how there are like 1000 christmas songs but only 1 song about the boys being back in town.
    __ _

    Merry Christmas and hopefully a better year than this one to come.

    And Dino contemplating a two-fer made me smile.

    harkin (8fadc8)

  10. Great post. I never knew Freddy Fender had a Christmas album. What a find! Also, I’m with you on Lou Rawls. I had the pleasure to meet him in the 1970’s in Austin. He was a gentleman.

    DRJ (aede82)

  11. Merry Christmas to all!

    DRJ (aede82)

  12. I saw this live:

    Lou Rawls was a trouper!

    harkin (8fadc8)

  13. nk, I remember when I first heard “Little Drummer Boy” as a young child, and it struck me as a revelation. I still love it, in a variety of performances. Here it is with a snare drumline — and who doesn’t a group of snare drums?

    Radegunda (b6cc34)

  14. A short Christmas playlist, in chronological order.
    Part I:

    Of the Father’s Love Begotten” is from the 5th century, and it’s a perennial favorite of mine as long as it’s in plainchant style. I’ve heard English choirs singing it in ¾ time, which ruins it.

    “Congaudet hodie” is from the 12th century. The complex rhythm of the singing is hypnotic.

    I like this energetic version of “Verbum patris umanatur” (o o), also from 12th century Aquitaine.

    Radegunda (b6cc34)

  15. Who doesn’t LOVE a group of snare drums?

    Radegunda (b6cc34)

  16. Part II:

    The “Wexford Carol” is thought to be from the 15th or 16th century. It’s exquisitely sung by Alison Krauss.

    “The Shepherds’ Farewell,” 1853/54, might be the best thing Berlioz ever wrote. The little oboe part is genius.

    One of the most gorgeous choral works in existence is “O Magnum Mysterium,” composed in 1994 by Morten Lauridsen in 1994.

    Radegunda (b6cc34)

  17. Ms. Houston was a phenomenal talent

    Absolutely. I was pleased to read someone’s report of showing her around his city (Cleveland or Cincinnati, IIRC). She was one of the biggest stars on the planet, but she came across as completely without attitude. He was the expert, and she was there to learn from him.

    Radegunda (b6cc34)

  18. With all due respect to Dave, you can’t have a Charlie Brown Christmas without the whole Peanuts gang.

    Or having Linus explain what Christmas is all about.

    Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas.

    Gawain's Ghost (b25cd1)

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