Christmas Tunes in New West

Christmas music is at the top of many minds, given that seasonal favourites seem to follow us wherever we go - work, school, the mall, and on and on. So, what I thought I'd do is list of some favourite Christmas anthems that, perhaps, you've never heard (or haven't heard quite as often), as opposed to the ones you're tired of.

Adapted from an image by: Jenny Brown

Christmas music is at the top of many minds, given that seasonal favourites seem to follow us wherever we go – work, school, the mall, and on and on. So, what I thought I’d do is list of some favourite Christmas anthems that, perhaps, you’ve never heard (or haven’t heard quite as often), as opposed to the ones you’re tired of.

So here it is, with the hopes that the Christmas spirit will find you, if it hasn’t already. Take a listen to these tunes, and a very Merry Christmas!

***

Must Be Santa –Bob Dylan

Christmas songs are folk songs, because they’re passed down to us from voice to ear. And Bob Dylan knows a thing or two about folk songs. Here he rocks it out Zydeco style. Or is it a polka? Fun fact: that’s David Hildago of Los Lobos rocking the accordion at Bob’s side on this track, proving that the accordion can, in fact, be rocked.

Also to note: all royalties from the song, and the album, go to Feed America in the US, Crisis in the UK, and the United Nations World Food Program in the rest of the world.

Zat You Santa Claus? – Louis Armstrong

Jazz architect and universally loved popular music demigod Louis sings of the mystery of St. Nick. Swing it, Satchmo!

Coventry Carol – Alison Moyet

Here’s a soulful rendering of one of the most spookily beautiful Christmas carols going, from former Yazoo singer Moyet.

Christmas Time Is Here – Vince Guaraldi Trio

Christmas, West Coast jazz style with Guaraldi, who popularized jazz trios for the under-tens via A Charlie Brown Christmas. That project would be Guaraldi’s first of seventeen collaborations with Charlie Brown TV specials projects from 1964 until his death in 1976. Chances are, this was your intro to jazz, kids. So, thanks Vince!

I Saw Three Ships – Sufjan Stevens

Here’s a mystically nautical Christmas tune from fey-indie poster boy Stevens. What are the three ships, exactly? I’ve always wondered. Still, a favourite. Stevens had been putting out a home-recorded EP of Christmas music every year for friends and family since 2001. Now, you can hear a whole whack of this holiday-themed work on his Songs For Christmas compilation.

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer – Ella Fitzgerald

“What do you know about Rudolph and his nose?” sings Ella. Well, I know that my six-year old now loves Ella singing this 1960 version of my girl’s favourite Christmas song ever.

Light of the Stable  – Emmylou Harris

Here’s a down-home Christmas tale from a country music innovator. This tune seems to hearken back to the age when country music was evolving out of Irish folk music, played by the inhabitants †of the Appalachians; families gathered around the fire to sing – and to keep warm!

The Christmas Song  – James Brown

There’s not a single ecstatic cry to be found on this version of Mel Torme’s classic Tin Pan Alley Christmas favourite. He sings it soulfully and gently, with strings and everything. Downside? Maceo doesnít take a solo.

Run Rudolph Run – Chuck Berry

From one of the forefathers of first-wave rock ‘n’ roll music as we know it (‘4os boogie-woogie piano licks †played on Country & Western electric guitars equals mega-selling, cross-cultural musical phenomenon) comes this seasonal favourite that positions our red-nosed herd animal hero in a uniquely American context.†It’s been cheesily hacked out by many a bar band since (what Berry song hasn’t?). But, the original that was recorded as a B-side to “Merry Christmas, Baby” in 1958 still kicks bottom, festively speaking.

Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight)  – Ramones

Jump around the kitchen with the kids while you’re making Christmas cookies. Onetwothreefour!

Mary Had A Baby –  Bruce Cockburn

Since the early 1970s, Cockburn had planned a Christmas record, based on a booklet of traditional songs given to him by his parents as a child. In 1993, he recorded this Christmas call-and-response spiritual adapted for his Christmas album, all about what went down in a Bethlehem stable one night. Favourite line? “Moving in the elements”.

Long Way Around The Sea – Low

Here’s an original song from a band from Duluth Minnesota (coincidentally to this list, that’s where Bob Dylan grew up, kids!). This one’s a quiet, understated, minimalist, and decidedly wintry Christmas tune about the Christmas birth from the Wise Men’s point of view.

Love Came Down At Christmas – Shawn Colvin

When you’re recording an album while 8 1/2 months pregnant as singer-songwriter Colvin was, it’s pretty natural to sing about motherhood. And really, motherhood is a big part of the Christmas story, right? The song is featured on her excellent, and extremely restful Holidays & Lullabies album.

Maybe This Christmas – Ron Sexsmith

“Maybe this year, love will appear deeper than ever before”. In this troubled world, who knows? But, a big part of Christmas is the hope that it will.

Merry Christmas!

Rob Jones

Rob Jones is a writer, music fan, and dad. He has been interested in cities and urban life ever since he first visited Toronto as a child, living there later as an undergraduate at York University. He later moved to London England, and then to The Lower Mainland. He is passionate about sustainability and community. Rob is the editor and writer of thedeletebin.com, a music blog and he will make you a mixtape with very little provocation.

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3 comments

  1. Great list – I'm unfamiliar with most of them, and will try to check them out.

    My suggestions are:

    For full albums:

    David Ian – a neat retro look at some of the holiday classics; really well done, with superb minimalism. You can sample the tracks on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/David-Ian-Vintage-Christmas

    One of my all time favorites is the Chieftains – The Bells of Dublin – listen to The Saint Stephens Day Murders, sung by Elvis Costello. You can sample here: http://www.amazon.com/Bells-Dublin-Chieftains/dp/

    Individual songs that make my Christmas playlist:
    Medieval Baebes – the Holly and the Ivy
    The Pogues – Fairytale of New York
    Rufus Wainwright – Hallelujah
    Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – really awesome medley.
    The Weepies – All That I Want – really nice Christmas carol and not sappy

  2. Thanks, David! Some great suggestions there, especially "Fairy Tale of New York", with the immortal yuletide sentiment "Happy Christmas, your arse, I pray god it's our last."

    I almost posted Kate Bush's "December Will Be Magic Again" for the loopier Christmas music fan out there.
    My recent post Bob Dylan Sings “Must Be Santa”

  3. "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis" by Tom Waits.

    But people often think I am a bit of a grinch….

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