Make the Yuletide Gay
Ivan requested it, so I will pass it along like a perpetually re-gifted Christmas fruitcake — my ten favorite holiday songs.
10. “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” For a song that started as a promotional gimmick for Montgomery Ward department stores, this novelty has had a long shelf life. Gene Autry’s rendition from the ’40s is among the best. Most covers of this tend towards the cloying, but the Temptations’ 1969 version is a badass classic.
9. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” Many of the best holiday songs have a tinge of sadness, and this one from the fantastic Phil Spector Presents a Christmas Gift for You album is no exception. Darlene Love sings with such fierce passion, one has to wonder if she isn’t being downright suicidal over the thought of her sweetie not showing up for Christmas.
8. “One Foot In Front Of The Other” A perky ode to self esteem sung by Mickey Rooney and Keenan Wynn in the Rankin-Bass animated special Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town. This tune isn’t particularly Christmassy in lyrics or sentiment, but it never fails to make me smile whenever the song (rarely) pops up on a store’s holiday-themed music loop.
7. “What Christmas Means To Me” Teenaged Stevie Wonder guilelessly lists his favorite seasonal things over a killer Motown beat. This gets me in a Christmas mood as soon as the tambourines come in.
6. “Jingle Bells” An overplayed perennial, for sure — but it warms my heart to hear this every year, and it’s so damned easy to sing along with it. Check out the nifty ’40s animated Screen Song version, sporting a rarely performed extra verse:
5. “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” Another sad classic. A thousand syrupy renditions can’t hide the fact that this came from the WWII era and has the same aura of hopeful resignation as “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “We’ll Meet Again.” Beautiful song.
4. “Fairytale Of New York” The last 25 years haven’t produced a lot of yuletide standards, but this collaboration between the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl deserves to be right up there with “Silent Night” and “White Christmas.” Great as those songs are, they lack the directness of lyrics like “You’re a bum you’re a punk/You’re an old slut on junk.” Some of us require a bit of acid in our egg nog, you know.
3. “All I Want For Christmas Is You” See above. Though I normally don’t favor Ms. Carey and her overwrought singing style, this song is such a stirring, fantastic production and I never tire of hearing it. What I hear in these 3:55 is everyone giving their all, a nostalgic Phil Spector pastiche that strangely sounds more timeless as the years go by.
2. “Christmas Time Is Here” The highlight of the Vince Guaraldi’s lovely Charlie Brown Christmas score. Having it performed by a doleful sounding choir of children was a strike of genius.
1. “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” The holiday season is about home, togetherness, family — qualities that are perfectly embodied in “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” Complete with original “muddle through somehow” lyrics, Judy Garland’s performance of this in Meet Me In St. Louis is and will always be the definitive version.