A couple of years ago, I did a post about my favorite Christmas songs. So feel free to travel back to that one here. But it occurred to me that it was time to introduce – plus or minus a few classics – some new tunes. Somebody somewhere is always releasing a Christmas or holiday album. Sometimes the artist will surprise you. For sake of space, I’ll feature a handful in the post but put them all in the Spotify list. Be sure to give it a spin.
First up, Rehya Stevens (pictured above). From her website: Rehya’s father introduced her onto the local professional Jazz scene when she was 11 years old.
Requirements included learning the American songbook and stylings of Etta James, Sarah Vaughn, Diane Schurr, Pearl Bailey, Dinah Washington, Shirley Horn, Natalie Cole and Diana Krall. Her father, Peter Martin played keyboards for artists including Diana Ross and the Supremes, Bobby Caldwell, Bill Medley.
Rehya’s got a nice new Christmas album of originals called Celebrate which she’s co-written with her collaborator, Jon Kubis. Kubis is currently keyboardist and arranger with Ray Chew Live, the house band on Dancing With The Stars and Showtime at the Apollo.
Let’s kick the holiday season off (a little early) with “Fly Past My Roof,” with a lush big band arrangement by Kubis. And yeah it swings, baby:
Wikipedia: “Pentatonix is an American a cappella group from Arlington, Texas, consisting of vocalists Scott Hoying, Mitch Grassi, Kirstin Maldonado, Kevin Olusola and Matt Sallee. Characterized by their pop-style arrangements with vocal harmonies, basslines, riffing, percussion and beatboxing, they are widely known for their covers, mostly of modern pop works or Christmas songs.
Pentatonix formed in 2011 and subsequently won the third season of NBC’s The Sing-Off, receiving $200,000 and a recording contract with Sony Music. With over 15 million subscribers and 2.7 billion views, Pentatonix’s YouTube channel is currently the 50th most-subscribed-to YouTube channel.”
Here they are doing the classic “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”
Well, who would believe that Eric Clapton of all people would do a Christmas album? Called Happy Xmas, one assumes he’s getting sentimental as he ages. Well, to quote another song, it ain’t necessarily so. Eric is a bluesman to his core and when I heard “A Little Bit of Christmas Love,” I knew I had to include it.
Steeleye Span are an English folk band who formed back in 1969. Per Wikipedia, “Their typical album is a collection of mostly traditional songs with one or two instrumental tracks of jigs and/or reels added; the traditional songs often include some of the Child Ballads.” Child Ballads are traditional tunes from England and Scotland.
“Gaudete” (Latin for rejoice) is a sacred Christmas carol that may trace as far back as the late Medieval period. Steeleye Span actually had a hit with this back in the early ’70’s and it’s one of the very few hits ever to be sung in Latin. It’s one of my all-time favorites and at this time of year, I often walk around the neighborhood, singing it with my friends whilst wishing everyone good cheer:*
Was there ever an unlikelier duo than Bing Crosby and David Bowie? I’d always heard that Bing’s kids dug Bowie and so helped make this pairing happen on Bing’s 1977 Christmas show. But it turns out as well that Bowie’s mother dug Crosby and so Bowie agreed to do it.
Daughter Mary recalls that when the time came for taping,”The doors opened and David walked in with his wife. They were both wearing full-length mink coats, they have matching full makeup and their hair was bright red. We were thinking, Oh my God.” (I imagine that in all his years in show biz Crosby has seen stranger things – ME.)
She continues by saying that, “They sat at the piano and David was a little nervous. But eventually, Dad realized David was this amazing musician, and David realized Dad was an amazing musician. You could see them both collectively relax and then magic was made.”
However, Bowie hated “Little Drummer Boy” which was why at the last minute one of the show’s songwriters wrote “Peace on Earth,” for Bowie to sing as a counter-melody. This strange bedfellows situation actually worked out quite well and it’s become a holiday classic.
In fact, despite the whole awkward setup, TV Guide listed the Crosby-Bowie duet one of the 25 most memorable musical moments of 20th-century television. Although in retrospect, it would have been a whole hell of a lot more interesting had it been, say, Johnny Rotten.
Of Bowie, Crosby said, “clean-cut kid (!) and a real fine asset to the show. He sings well, has a great voice and reads lines well.” This was to become one of the last things Crosby ever did as he died about a month later.
Some other great ones (don’t forget Spotify list):
“A Christmas Song.” Another nice, more traditional tune by the talented Rehya Stevens
“Linus and Lucy,” Vince Guaraldi Trio. It’s not Christmas till the Peanuts gang does that silly dance.
“What Christmas Means to Me,” John Legend/Stevie Wonder.
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Sam Smith.
“Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” Martina McBride.