Sure, there are about a million Christmas songs, but what are the ones you should go out of your way to listen to?
We had been kicking around the idea of doing a joint blog entry for a while, and since it’s the Christmas season, we decided to join forces to share with you, our readers, the very best Christmas music.
The 10 songs below, five from her and five from me, are ones you should rejoice in when you hear them between now and Dec. 25.
“The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late),” The Chipmunks
Bill: You need to have a little silliness, a little goofiness, something to make you smile … so why not a song where you can warble “I WANT A HUUUULLLLAAAA HOOOOOP!” at high volume and completely out of tune?
Renata: Christmas is all about child-like wonder and feeling like you’re a kid again.
“Sleigh Ride,” The Boston Pops
Bill: I’m a firm believer that most Christmas songs have one best version, with no substitutes measuring up. For instance, the Pops’ version of Leroy Anderson’s classic because my trombone players get some nice run in the middle of the song.
Renata: Definitely an enjoyable take on this classic, although I admit that I am typically partial to lyrical music (“Carol of the Bells” by David Foster notwithstanding). While I do enjoy this song, my top pick is usually The Ronettes‘ version, mostly for the “ring-a-ling-a-ling-a-ding-dong-ding.”
“O Holy Night,” Josh Groban
Bill: Classic song … brilliant singer.
Renata: Josh Groban has more or less become our common-era king of Christmas music. With his soulful and operatic voice, he can belt the classics and make you feel like you’re watching him front row in a stadium even when you’re listening to him on the radio. That being said, the best version of this song is undeniably done by Celine Dion, who must be the empress of Christmas music if we are deeming Josh Groban king. Celine’s version of this rocks me to my core and makes my speakers fail in the face of her awesomeness.
“Grown-Up Christmas List,” Amy Grant
Bill: “No more lives torn apart,
Then wars would never start,
And time would heal all hearts.
And every one would have a friend,
And right would always win,
And love would never end
This is my grown-up Christmas list.”
As wishes go, that’s not bad.
Renata: This is such a beautiful, new-age, Christmas classic. Like most Amy Grant Christmas songs, this one is poignant and full of soul. I find this song to be both heartbreaking (clearly the singer has grown out of the innocence of childhood) and hopeful (if we can all just work on being better people and see the world and others in a more tolerant way, it can get better). Definitely one of my favorite songs to belt soulfully in the car during the holiday season.
“Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24,” Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Bill: Christmas doesn’t start until I hear this song.
Renata: I have a confession to make — I have fallen asleep at several TSO concerts. Yup, a loud, bright, rock concert is happening right in front of me, and I’m snoring in the stands. My friend still makes fun of me for it and probably always will. When I’m exhausted, I can just fall asleep anywhere. ANYWAY, “Carol of the Bells” in its various forms has always been one of my favorites. I love this badass Christmas jam, and I also love the scene on “The Office” where Dwight, Creed, Gabe and Nate are playing it while strumming air guitars. Amazing!
“Christmas Wrapping,” The Waitresses
Renata: One of the easiest songs to get stuck in your head over the holiday. With the catchy beat and fun lyrics, I don’t know how you can’t bounce to the rhythm of this song. I think this is a really unique Christmas jam because it doesn’t really fit into any of the various themes that Christmas music generally does. It’s not a hymn or a song specifically for children (as a kid, I always thought it was badass that this song had the word “damn” in it), and it has a full storyline. I always enjoyed hearing her different experiences with the guy throughout the year in this song. It’s quirky and fun and will always be one of my favorites.
Bill: Comment on YouTube: “I just got back from 400 years in the future and they still play this tune around Christmas. Even the aliens dig it.”
You know, I can see that. They’ll be playing this one forever.
“Step Into Christmas,” Elton John
Renata: If this song doesn’t make you want to get up and start dancing, I don’t think that we can be friends. I admittedly forget about this song until I hear it every year (and still don’t know a solid amount of the words…), but every time I hear it, a huge smile comes across my face. This is one of those Christmas songs that is just meant to induce joy. All of the lyrics (which I have now googled) are simply about camaraderie and enjoying the Christmas season. Elton John insinuates that this song is a sort of a “digital Christmas card.” But let’s be honest, this is better than a Christmas card because it’s not going to collect dust on my mantle until I throw it out in the second week of January…
Bill: True confession time — when Renata first sent me her list my first thought was that I didn’t know many of these songs. Then “Christmas Wrapping” came to me, and later, “Hey dummy … Elton John, Christmas, hello!”
And not that anyone with a clue wouldn’t realize Elton John is a giant of the music business, seeing “Rocketman” will remind you that he has had an ungodly number of hits.
“Breath of Heaven,” Amy Grant
Renata: As weird as this sounds for someone who only watches comedies, I really enjoy intensity in my media. Case and point, the villain Javert has always been my favorite character in “Les Miserables.” This song is the epitome of intensity as Mary pleads with God for wisdom and help as she goes through the most difficult time in her life. Who could possibly be more terrified than a virgin who just found out she’s pregnant with God’s baby?! And I believe that Amy Grant nails this worried-yet-hopeful feeling in this song. Even if you’re not religious, I would highly recommend Amy Grant’s Christmas albums. They’re lovely.
Bill: Other than “Grown-Up Christmas List,” I don’t think I had ever heard another Christmas song by Amy Grant. You’d think, since it’s one of my favorites, but … . This one is lovely.
“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings,” Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan
Renata: This is definitely the most new-agey Christmas song on my list. I’ve always loved collaborations (as I’m sure you can tell) as well as several songs mashed together into one. I love hearing how different artists interpret the songs and how they fit them together. This song is such a unique combination of upbeat Christmas fun and smooth folksy-ness, proving that Christmas songs don’t have to be danceable to make Christmas merry and bright. This new take on old classics is the hipster Christmas anthem that we need, but don’t deserve.
Bill: I am so glad Renata included this one. It could have easily gone on my list, and if we had chosen 10 each, it would have. In addition to it just being good, there are two things in particular I love about it.
1. They recorded it backstage at a holiday concert.
2. Barenaked Ladies may be a little silly at times, but they absolutely hang with Sarah McLachlan, who for my money is one of the great voices of our time.
Renata: The Chicago Christmas album is my favorite Christmas album of all time and has been since I was a kid. I’ve always loved their takes on traditional Christmas songs, as well as their original songs. Since I didn’t want one of my songs to be an entire album, I chose one of their originals from the re-release of their Christmas album. Awesome horns, brilliant harmonies, and, I mean, CHICAGO make for a Christmas song that gives me chills every time I listen to it. I do love that it’s from the point of view of the three kings and gives us an opportunity to see this miraculous birth through their eyes. It’s a beautiful piece of an entirely mind-blowing album. I challenge anyone to listen to it and not have it become their favorite. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Bill: Never knew this existed maybe until Renata mentioned it on the Christmas traditions edition of the podcast. It’s a good one.