Been awhile since I’ve done one of these. Maybe I’ll work a few in next year, we’ll see how it goes. I was inspired by the Slacktivist re-running his own Christmas music manifesto from a few years ago. I broadly agree with him on this, but there are a couple of points that I feel need to be included.
1. “The Little Drummer Boy” is an abomination before God and man and should be avoided at all costs. It’s not just that it’s dumb – seriously, who thinks playing a drum for a baby is a good idea? – it’s maudlin and draggy and so annoyingly repetitive. If you must have a song featuring a kid with a drum on your playlist, the correct answer is “Pat-a-Pan”, an old French carol:
I first heard this song as a choir boy in the mid-70s, when we performed it for that year’s concert. It’s still in my head all these years later, and yet I can’t say I’ve ever heard it on the radio or someone’s random playlist since then. A shame, because it’s simple and bouncy and brief, a good quality for most Christmas music. The first version of this I found when I looked was a Julie Andrews rendition, and while I’d never say anything bad about Julie Andrews, the super slow tempo of her arrangement was not the optimal choice.
(Also, as is the way with old traditionals, the lyrics I learned were different. The first verse, as I sang it all those years ago, was “Willie play your little drum/With the whistle I shall come/We’ll make music bright and gay/Too-ra-loo-ra-lay, pat-a-pat-a-pan/We’ll make music bright and gay/Too-ra-lay/It’s Christmas Day”. Your mileage may vary.)
2. “O Holy Night” is indeed a beautiful showcase for talented singers. It’s one of my favorite hymns for that reason. It also has one of the hallmarks of a great song in that it can be done in a completely different and unexpected way and still be awesome. To wit, here’s Brave Combo and their cha-cha version of “O Holy Night”:
I have no idea how you can hear the normal version of this and think “cha cha cha”, but they did and we are all the better for it.
3. On the subject of songs with more than one verse, the same can be said for “Jingle Bells” as well. If you’re not singing about Miss Fanny Bright when you sing “Jingle Bells”, you’re doing it wrong. You know who does “Jingle Bells” right? Alvin and the m-f’ing Chipmunks, that’s who:
Three verses, y’all. That’s how you “Jingle Bells”.
4. “Good King Wenceslas” is an underrated classic and should get more love.
That’s all I’ve got. Feel free to add your own requirements for a good Christmas playlist.