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Christmas through the music


Last updated 12/8/2009 at Noon

Have you turned on the music yet?

They used to have it on albums and play it on radio.

I think there’s still radio around, with music played on CDs, MP3s and something that will come out next year we haven’t heard of yet.

Please send me some of your favorites at, and I’ll publish them on Dec. 23.

In the meantime, you have to put up with mine.

* “Let it Snow” by Dean Martin. Did Dean have a drink when he did this? I certainly hope so.

* “Ode to Joy” by Ludwig Von Beethoven. I think he’s dead now, but the music carries on.

* “O Holy Night” by Johnny Mathis. Johnny’s voice sets the spirit of the season.

* “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bill Hailey and his Comets. Hailey was one of the first rock artists to take advantage of holiday music, as did Elvis with “Blue Christmas.”

* “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee. Brenda’s youth and charm made her a big hit in the late ‘50s, and I still enjoy her many songs to this day.

* “Jingle Bells” by Diana Krall. She’s otherwise known as Mrs. Elvis Costello (or Mrs. Declan McManus (Elvis’ real name).

* “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Andy Williams. On his old TV show, he had a bear that craved cookies. He introduced us to the Osmonds, and I’m still not sure that’s a good thing. So sometimes Andy could be a bit too much. I believe he’s in Branson now. Least favorite Williams Christmas song: “It’s the Holiday Season.”

* “That Spirit of Christmas” by Ray Charles. I don’t think the original Raylettes are on this, but’s it’s OK. Mr. Charles was always a gospel singer at heart and does a great job here telling us about the Christ Child.

* “The First Noel” by Nat King Cole. You might know him these days as the father of Natalie Cole, but we still have Nat’s recordings to bring us back to his family tradition.

* “The Christmas Song” written by Mel Torme, sung by Nat King Cole. This is often called “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.” The Carpenters did a version in the ‘70s. Probably Tony Bennett somewhere.

* “Silent Night” – everyone in the world has done this. John Denver, the Carpenters, Percy Faith. Simon and Garfunkel had a depressing but unique take when they had a news announcer read the top stories of 1966 with the song in the background. Richard Speck and Richard Nixon never sounded so “Christmas-eeee.”

* “Run Run Rudolph” by Chuck Berry. Santa’s got to get to your house and might even take the freeway if he wants. I can see Berry “duck-walking” now to this classic pioneering rock tune, just as good as any of his non-seasonal hits.

* “Silver Bells” by Bing Crosby. He did the first of many versions on wax. The song was originally performed by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell in the movie “The Lemon Drop Kid.”

* “Little St. Nick” by the Beach Boys. While the Beatles never released a Christmas album, their fiercest competitor – production-wise – Brian Wilson, did. “Run Run Reindeer” and “Merry Christmas Baby” are familiar strains in this song. Wilson borrowed from Phil Specter, as he would do later on “Pet Sounds.”

* “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love. Before Phil Specter became a crazy murderer, he’s at his best in 1963: producing music and not killing anyone. Love’s voice is wonderful.

* “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” by Thurl Ravenscroft. A tale of a bad boy gone good by Dr. Seuss. The Grinch, voiced excellently on the CBS show by Boris Karloff, isn’t nice to anyone. In the end, it all works out. Ravenscroft was the voice of cereal pitch-animal Tony the Tiger.

* “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry.You can’t have a holiday without this. When I was a kid I had the album patched up with what they used to call “freezer tape” because it got played so much every year. Gene’s version is the best; written by Johnny Marks. Specter’s group the Crystals also had a good one. And you can’t forget Burl Ives’ take on the CBS special of the same name.

* “Father Christmas,” The Kinks. Ray Davies and band sing, “Father Christmas, bring us some money.” A tune every news reporter can relate to.

* “Sleigh Ride” Leroy Anderson -- the bounciness and clip-clop of the horses are great. The version you hear most is by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. I always thought Fiedler might join the Rolling Stones, but it was never to be. Somehow I don’t think they’d have gotten along very well.

* “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late).” Producer David Seville (aka Ross Bagdasarian) carved out quite a niche for Alvin and the Chipmunks in their first hit. The group went on to cover Hollywood movies and punk rock. Alvin would not behave. Earlier in his career Bagdasarian appeared as an actor in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” as the piano-playing neighbor James Stewart spies on.

* “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby. What can you say of this classic? Bing is in fine form. He died playing golf. Lemonade, anyone?

* “Put One Foot in Front of the Other” -- Mickey Rooney and Keenan Wynn. From the Rankin/Bass special “Santa Claus is Coming To Town.” Mickey plays Santa in his early days and Wynn is a bad grumpy guy. In the end, everyone wins. My favorite line is Wynn’s: “Alas, I am ... disenchanted.”

* “Happy X-Mas (War is Over)” by John Lennon. You’ll be forced to hear Yoko Ono, but this is a very poignant statement about war.

* “The Little Drummer Boy” No matter which version, it always resonates as the boy offers his only gift to the newborn king.

* “A Charlie Brown Christmas” -- Vince Guaraldi’s San Fran Bay jazz becomes the soundtrack to the holidays. “Linus and Lucy,” “Christmas Time is Here” and “Skating” are part of our fabric. The late Charles Schulz did a lot of things right, and this album is proof. Monte Budwig and Colin Bailey back up Guaraldi on this wonderful recording to be enjoyed any time of year.


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