John Bartus

I love the holidays. Not only does the advent of Advent signal the end of hurricane season (YES!!!), it also means that radio stations and businesses are playing a mix of holiday songs! I love the sounds of the season, from the classics to the contemporary, and here are a few of my all-time favorites that I hope bring you comfort and joy this holiday season!

• “Christmas All Over Again” – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. This cool Yule rocker combines surf and Motown influences into a big Phil Spector-sized bag of Christmas goodies! Great lines abound throughout – about long distance relatives, Tom sings, “Yeah, I kinda miss them, I just don’t want to kiss them!” And, “I hope you have a good one, I hope Mama gets her shopping done.” And the end is all a rocker can hope for, as Tom tells us his wish list: “I want a new Rickenbacker guitar… a couple of Fender Bassmans… a Chuck Berry songbook….” 

• “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” – Thurl Ravenscroft, from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” Because Boris Karloff narrated the TV special (CBS, 1966) and was the voice of the Grinch, people thought he also sang the character’s centerpiece song. The only problem was Boris Karloff couldn’t sing. The issue was made worse by the omission of Mr. Ravenscroft’s name from the credits. Dr. Seuss apologized for this omission profusely, and wrote letters to columnists nationwide telling them it was Ravenscroft who sang the song. The combination of his incredible baritone and the perfect orchestral arrangement made this song a part of every Christmas for me since 1966. An aside: I just learned that Mr. Ravenscroft was also the voice of Tony the Tiger for more than 50 years — that’s GGGRREEEAAATTTT!

• “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings” – Barenaked Ladies with Sarah McLachlan. Acoustic guitars, a double bass, and brush percussion are the spare elements accompanying the voices of the Barenaked Ladies and the angelic Sarah McLachlan. It’s uptempo, it’s folksy, it’s jazzy, and it warms the soul like hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day. 

• “HappyXmas/War is Over” – John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The perfect Peace on Earth Christmas song was a special gift to all of us. It continues to serve as a reminder of the genius of Lennon and how much so many still miss him… and just how appropriate his words are still today.

• “The Twelve Days of Christmas” – Straight No Chaser. This a capella men’s chorus from Indiana blows the doors off of this Christmas classic and takes it to places barely imaginable by normal human beings. Do yourself a huge favor and look this one up on YouTube. You’ll be blown away – trust me on this. Honorable mention goes to Bob Rivers’ Twisted Tunes version of this song.

• “I Believe In Father Christmas” – Greg Lake. There is probably no better song that takes on the commercialization of Christmas than this 1975 classic from Greg Lake (of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer fame). As Lake said in an interview with Mojo magazine, “I find it appalling when people say it’s politically incorrect to talk about Christmas, you’ve got to talk about ‘The Holiday Season.’ Christmas was a time of family warmth and love. There was a feeling of forgiveness, acceptance. And I do believe in Father Christmas.”

• “Sleigh Ride” – Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. Yeah, a lot of acts have done this song. Yeah, there are lyrics. But you can sing them in your head while listening to the incredible instrumental arrangement by Fiedler and the Boston Pops. From sleigh bells to the clip-clop of horse hooves to the trumpet’s horse whinny, this song makes a person long to bundle up and take a one-horse open sleigh … even if that person never grew up around snow! 

There are so many more that deserve mention, from Bing’s “White Christmas” to Gene Autry’s “Rudolph” to Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song.” There’s “Holly Jolly Christmas” from Burl Ives, “Blue Christmas” from Elvis, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Andy Williams, the Bing Crosby and David Bowie duet on “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Frank Sinatra or James Taylor. And we can’t leave out the Chipmunks! Whatever tunes are the soundtrack to your holiday season, may you have the Merriest of Christmases and a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

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