There are a few reasons why I don’t listen to the radio. Songs I like don’t come on often enough; it’s hard to tailor it to your mood, and other factors. But maybe one of the biggest reasons is that every year starting earlier and earlier, radio stations flip to all holiday music all the time. This drives me nuts, because the soundtracks tend to consist of different artists singing the same ~30 songs over and over again. So awhile back, I assembled a holiday playlist of my own that I break out every year after Thanksgiving. I try to go for uniqueness in my holiday picks, or variations on the old standards. Since holiday music season is upon us again, I thought I’d share some of the artists on my holiday list.
TSO are the undisputed kings of my holiday playlist, and if you know anything about my music tastes, it’s easy to see why. Their three holiday albums form the Christmas Trilogy: Christmas Eve and Other Stories (1996), The Christmas Attic (1998), and The Lost Christmas Eve (2004). Of these three, the third is my favorite, featuring my favorite song of theirs, “Christmas Canon Rock.” I’m generally a sucker for any rockin’ adaptation of Pachelbel’s Canon, and that one doesn’t disappoint. It also features soaring vocals from Jennifer Cella.
Probably the most recognizable piece in the Christmas Trilogy is “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24,” from the first album; it generally gets a decent amount of airplay on radio stations. This fusion of Carol of the Bells and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is one of many medleys on the trilogy that TSO executes beautifully. I have fond memories of this piece because I performed a version of it with my high school instrumentalist group to raucous applause. Because I went to a small school, this group consisted of anyone who could play an instrument, and as a result was sort of a mishmash of unorganized talents, unlike your typical high school band. But we pulled it together, and it is one of my favorite memories of that time in my life.
Other favorites from TSO include “A Mad Russian’s Christmas,” “Wizards in Winter,” (which has an entertaining music video), “Ornament,” and “The March of Kings/Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Each of their albums also has a story that ties all the songs together, and I’ve always meant to go back and read them. It’s far from necessary though, because the songs are good enough to be appreciated on their own.
The mother of mainstream New Age music released an album called And Winter Came… in 2008 and it is a little different from your typical Christmas album. As the name implies, the songs are really more about winter, but she does sneak in some Christmas standards like “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” which she puts her own airy, hang-in-the-air twist on. The single “Trains and Winter Rains” moves at a little faster tempo than her most well-known songs, and I think serves to spice the album up a bit. My favorite song is probably the title track, an instrumental piano piece that builds on itself and really puts the listener into the winter mindset. I always seem to picture a time-lapse photo of winter passing on a vast landscape whenever I hear the song.
The Piano Guys
The Piano Guys, those wacky fusion artists from YouTube, have a Christmas album of their own. While theirs mostly consists of traditional carols, most of them are performed without vocals, making them a little different from the typical fare. The few times they do incorporate vocals, though, they do so to great effect. Their rendition of “Where Are You Christmas?” features guest vocals from one of the bandmembers’ daughters, Sarah Schmidt. I’ve never been a fan of the song myself (after all, whoever heard of a sad Christmas song?), but The Piano Guys pull it off in a moving way. Sarah also displays a maturity in her singing beyond her tender years, which makes the song all the more poignant.
I also have a mix of Christmas song parodies that help inject some humor into this time of year. A friend gave me this back in middle school, and I still listen to it to this day. No holiday standard is safe… “Deck the Halls” becomes “Wreck the Malls,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” becomes “We Wish You Weren’t Living With Us, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” becomes “The Twelve Pains of Christmas” and so on. Many of these parodies, such as “Police Stop My Car” above, come from radio personality Bob Rivers’ albums. Some of the others come from TV shows, such as Mystery Science Theater 3000 and South Park, and some of them, like “Santa’s Coming and He’s Gonna Kick Your Ass,” by The Arrogant Worms, are more, shall we say… irreverent. But they’re all hilarious.
I’ve always liked Melissa Etheridge’s voice, and her song “Glorious” is one of my favorite original holiday songs. It has a peaceful air to it, with her guitar playing complementing her vocals well. It also contains several homages to “Angels We Have Heard on High,” including the famous “Glo-oooo-oooo-oooo-ria,” as well as other songs. It expresses the simple wishes of everyone during the holiday season, “No more judgments, no more fear.” Especially, it seems, given the chaos that’s consumed world events lately.
Several other artists have released original holiday singles like Etheridge, and I usually include them on my playlist as well. Sabrina Carpenter’s “Silver Nights” was added to the list last year, a more romantic holiday song. She released a new song this year called, “Christmas the Whole Year Round,” with more of a “peace on Earth” vibe. Train’s song “Shake Up Christmas” generally makes the list too. Weird Al’s “The Night Santa Went Crazy” and “Christmas at Ground Zero” are also favorites. Heck, even the Animaniacs get in on the act with their “Noel.”
What are your favorite holiday hits? Traditional or not-so-much? Let me know in the comments!