Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Music Memories

Not only am I a dreamer, but I'm someone who likes to reminisce... A LOT... especially when it comes to a few of my favorite things and more than occasionally, those things are people.
Whether it's my latest school girl crush or the newest celebrity I'd become infatuated/obsessed with, I like to look back on how certain things made me feel warm and fuzzy.

Interestingly, when it comes to Christmas, it seems to me that it's the only time of year where reminiscing is okay. In fact, it's encouraged because that's a big part of what Christmas is about. 
Aside from reindeer, evergreen trees and warm apple cider, looking back on those good feelings and making new memories with loved ones is the biggest high about this season.

When it came to college, I was madly insane about keeping my eye on the prize. I didn't let the Christmas spirit in to any degree until the semester was over and all of the finals were done. Because of that, it's taken me a bit longer to really get into the spirit of the season. 
Luckily this year, December 1st was perfectly fine.

As always, Christmas music is a big part of it. I'm crazy about music in general, but there's nothing quite like Christmas music. 
And isn't it funny that every year there's one song that you hear played a million times to the point you're getting sick of it? And there's another one entirely that you haven't heard at all that when you finally do come across it (or break down and dig it out of your album collection), it's as if the holiday season is complete?

This year, song A has been "Little Saint Nick"... love the song, but it's been on a LOT lately.
and Song B, until yesterday when I took it out of hiding, was "Wonderful Christmastime"

Last year I turned a mix of all my favorites and it's substantial. (Although not entirely on purpose, it runs close to 77 minutes and spans over 25 songs).
I didn't quite realize until a few weeks ago how much I liked "Let it Snow" and decided that, ultimately, it was aesthetically made for crooners like Michael Bublé.

As with any mix CD I make (with the exception of the ones I made to compile my own greatest hits of my favorite artists), each song has a story behind it that forever forges its connection with me. 
And I'll freely admit that some of them have a little less going for them and I just put them there because I like them. 

Be mindful that not all of them will be by the original artists and certain artists appear multiple times on the list

  1. White Christmas- Bing Crosby
I have seen the movie of the same name. I wouldn't say it's one of my favorite Christmas movies because it goes long in some places and oddly enough, I always catch it at night and fall asleep somewhere in the 3rd act. But I'm always awake to see the final sequence where they do this song. 
It is a CLASSIC that everyone knows and loves, and I cannot fathom why anyone would want to remake it. In 2010, I came across so many versions (one day, heard a different version every 20 minutes, seemingly) that I blew a gasket. Just stick with good ol' Bing and that's all you really need.

2. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

One of four appearances from Johnny Mathis on this mix, just to give you fair warning. Growing up, we had maybe three Christmas CD's that we played on the way to grandma's house or wherever we were going that day. I hear Johnny Mathis and I think about Christmas. That smooth soulful voice is hard-wired into my warm & gooey pleasure center.

It also happens to be the song you hear in "Home Alone 2" when Kevin discovers he'd taken the wrong plane to NYC. Not sure how much of a coincidence this might be, but to me, nothing says Christmas to me quite like New York in December, particularly in Rockefeller Center with the biggest, best tree in America.

3. It's the most wonderful time of the year

A couple years ago, I heard this song on the radio a lot and found myself at a loss because the arrangement and overall sound of it was never Johnny's version. As it turns out, Andy Williams (who had recently passed away this year) was the original artist. 
It isn't just the Johnny Mathis vocal style, but I find the overall production of the song magical, all the way to the very last note. Nothing gets me warm & fuzzy quite like a song that ends on the perfect note

4. Santa Claus Lane- Gene Autry

I believe it was 2008 when I was on a mission to watch every Christmas special I could manage to find time for. My only regret is that I didn't keep track of them because I'm sure there were a lot. That was the first time I saw the other Rankin/Bass special, "Santa Claus is comin' to town" and "A year without a Santa Claus." This song is one of two on this mix featured in the latter.

The special starts very cheesy in the beginning with the songs and such, but once the Miser Brothers get involved, the real party begins. (I'm a Snow Miser fan myself).
The story is about a year when Santa wanted to take a holiday because he didn't think people cared about him anymore. So a couple of his elves went to a town in the south, aptly named South Town, where it never snows... until they talk to the Miser Brothers about getting it to snow, which will instill enough belief of Santa in the town. 
Supposedly, the title is coined because South Town decided to name a street after him. It's a nice song with a great melody and such. Listening to it again, I noticed that maybe, it runs a little too long.

5. Rudolph- Gene Autry

It isn't quite Christmas for me unless I see Rudolph once... same goes for A Charlie Brown Christmas... most of my love for it is purely nostalgia and it's relatable to just about everybody young and old. Either because they grew up with it too or because we know our share of what it's like not to fit in anywhere. (On the matter of getting old, you come to realize that the structure of the plot lacks in places, particularly around the reasons why the other reindeer don't want anything to do with Rudolph)
All of the bits and pieces of details about the special down to all the references, I just go crazy for it. So why not put this song on the mix.

6. Holly Jolly Christmas- Burl Ives

See above song for further explanation, lol

7. Little Drummer Boy- Josh Groban

Let me make one thing clear here: this is included because I love this particular version, not because of the Rankin/Bass special (the often forgotten one that nobody really liked)

We got Josh Groban's Christmas album for my mom a couple years ago and ironically, I'd listened to it a couple more times than she has. Commuting to work in December 2009, I brought along my favorite albums and decided to give this one a list. I ended up finding a bunch too good not to include.
Previously I heard a duet of this song between Bing Crosby and David Bowie... about as boring as the special itself... I just didn't get it.

Sometimes, it's all in the arrangement. This version is more upbeat, therefore more interesting. Plus, it sounded like a Celtic vibe was brought to it. I love it.

8. The Chipmunk Song

This was part of a NOW Christmas album that I wanted specifically for a song later on this list. Whenever I hear it, I think about the movie "Look who's talking now" where everyone is acting out the parts in the song in an attempt to cheer up Mikey (a very young David Gallagher) when he discovers that the mall Santa was a fake.
I haven't seen that movie in years, but it's got a Christmasy vibe to it that drives me insane with nostalgia. 

9. Rockin' around the Christmas tree- Brenda Lee

Another of my favorite Christmas songs

10. Jingle Bell Rock- Bobby Helms

I checked between a couple versions and opted for this one, despite my love of Hall & Oates.
Another great upbeat Christmas song. 
The past couple weeks, I have been unable to hear this song without thinking about the Christmas pageant in "Mean Girls" where they're doing the sexy dance in matching Santa Claus outfits. 

Although, come to think of it, I think one year I put in the DVD just to watch this scene.

11. Blue Christmas- Elvis

This was the other song featured in "A Year without a Santa Claus" and the first time I really heard this one. I like Elvis as much as the next guy, but he doesn't bring enough of a melancholy vibe to this song. In other words, I don't feel he brings the emotionality to it that was the original intention of the piece.

12. Grandma got run over by a reindeer

Everyone knows this one. For the record, I have seen the cartoon special later based on this song... its a bit of a stretch in places, plot-wise
Way back in the day, my elementary school had a Lunch with Santa day one Saturday in December. It was the first place we did our Christmas shopping and it also gave me a taste for those white Christmas tree cakes. (They're made by Little Debbie's or a similar company).
I could be wrong, but I'd swear that I heard it the year it officially became a Christmas staple.

Honestly, I have some heavy material on this mix... but then again, some artists like Josh Groban will get me choked up because of the skill of their instrument... it's nice to have a couple songs like this to cut loose and have fun with.

13. The First Noel- Josh Groban w/Faith Hill

In addition to the Celtic vibe of the "Little Drummer Boy," duets were another fantastic feature of Mr. Groban's Noel. Specifically, the harmonies, which brought something to these classics that I never heard anything quite like before. This song's a beauty.

14. Winter Wonderland- Tony Bennett

Again, the only version we have. 

A couple of years ago, I finally asked about a lyric I never understood. "What's a parson?" I asked.
I got the answer and it was one of those "DUH" moments. We studied the Canterbury Tales in high school, so I really should have known that a parson is a pastor/reverend/priest that officiates weddings.

A little voice in the back of my mind exclaims "BENNETT!!"... it belongs to Stephen Colbert, as Tony Bennett was one of three people (Barry Manilow & Don Rickles being the others) that had "robbed" him of an Emmy (for Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program)

15. Do They Know it's Christmastime?

Everyone knows this one and amazingly, it's a couple years away from turning 30. This was written by the super band Band-Aid, which included people like Bono and Phil Colllins, for charity. According to Wikipedia, it was for anti-poverty efforts in Ethiopia (and I thought it was for the troops, silly me).
Unfortunately, it is not remembered for being a great song or a great effort. People would say it was poor songwriting (how about one of the worst songs ever written? I strongly disagree) and it was too political (and yet that song by John & Yoko is celebrated). 

My absolute love for this song, I think, can be denoted to the fact it screamed 80's. The harmonies between the musicians was great, but I loved the melodies of the operatic synthesizers that dominates the last couple minutes of the track. Not even the cast of "Glee" could make it sound any better than that. 

16. Little Saint Nick- The Beach Boys

This song, along with "Rockin' around the Christmas Tree" were covered by Sugar Beats, a predecessor for the kids' cover group, Kidz Bop. But one of its alums happens to be Jesse McCartney, who'd gone from a member of my favorite boy band to my favorite male artist (although it's been a couple years since his last album). He sang lead on both of these songs, so that was reason enough for their inclusion. 

17. Wonderful Christmastime- Paul McCartney

Speaking of McCartneys (there's no relation and these songs being back to back is purely coincidental)...
This was the other Christmas song by a former Beatle, but not remembered for its songwriting. The man himself even said that this was one of the worst, if not most embarassing things he'd ever written. I'd say it has a very 80's vibe as well, but it was released in 1979.

This year when I finally got around to listening to it, it made think about the commercials for radio station B101, which calls itself the Philly Christmas station this time of year. It's one of the songs that plays and the animation includes people playing in the snow and the logo sitting above a warm fireplace.
It got me in the mood for cozying up with a cup of hot chocolate and I declared that this Christmas season was now complete.

18. Last Christmas- Wham!

Ashley Tisdale (of "High School Musical" fame) sang this at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and I knew I had to get my hands on this song. So I asked for another NOW Christmas album, but it included this Wham! classic among a few other songs we didn't own. "Glee" also happened to cover it that same year for their first Christmas (each year is great, but that was the best of the three Christmas shows they'd done)

Just a few weeks ago, for the Christmas ep "The Mindy Project," the title character had this song blasting when she was hiding under the covers. She'd just discovered that her boyfriend was seeing another woman, and most likely will go on to be the best use of this song in TV or movie. Because all girls can relate to broken hearts on Christmas. 

Every version brings something different, but there's nothing quite like this purely 80's classic, complete with that catchy Linn-drum breat.

19. We Need a Little Christmas

This song began the Jim Henson special "A Muppet Family Christmas" which premiered in 1987 and lives on in our memories (as well as an old VHS tape with all these old classics on it). Johnny accomplished this in almost record time (it's either less than a minute or just less than 2 minutes, I'll have to double-check). 
The other day, I came across another rendition... which lasted more than 5 minutes... seriously, was that necessary? lol

20. Happy Holidays/Caroling, Caroling

Also featured in that Muppet special and the last mention of Johnny on this album. A nice little mash-up to end this segment of the album, again down to the very last seconds of it.

And by the way, I just want to give a shout-out to the person at Old Navy advertising who came up with the idea for the Johnny Mathis commercial where his music is compared to the softness of their new line of sweaters. What a brilliant idea that was!

21. Sleigh Ride- Ella Fitzgerald

We don't own another version of this and I personally prefer the instrumental versions to any with lyrics (comes from years of concert choir and our opening act was the orchestra), but it's still an nice classic

22. Angels We Have heard on High- Josh Groban w/Brian McKnight

Another amazing duet off this album with harmonies that send me to the moon, they're so perfect for each other. Admittedly, this is a carole I'd often forgotten about, but now it's become a favorite of mine

23. This Christmas- Joe

This was off one of our NOW Christmas albums and this was the version stuck in my head when I was putting this mix together.

24. My Only Wish- Britney Spears

I had a certain someone in mind when I added this song to the mix last year and it made for a good substitute for "All I want for Chistmas is you" (conspiciously missing from our entire collection of Christmas music).
For real or for fantasy, who hasn't had this wish of finding a certain someone under the mistletoe on Christmas morning?

25. Feliz Navidad

To close out the mix, I didn't want anything super weepy or sentimental. It had to be something spirited and just plain fun. It happened to a Christmas song that my favorite college roommate, Susan, HATED, because you really can't go through Christmas with the ability to avoid it. Sooner or later, you will come across it and whether you know the words or not, it'll guilt you into singing along.

All that's really left to say is Merry Christmas... in, wow, only 3 more days

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