A Music Enthusiast Selection of Christmas Tunes

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:

Spotify link

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.”

Spotify link

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.

Spotify link

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:*

Spotify link

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.

Spotify link

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.

*Yeah, right!

28 thoughts on “A Music Enthusiast Selection of Christmas Tunes

  1. Nice to see your nod to Steeleye Span, Jim. I like their first couple albums. And I read your list from two years ago. Some real interesting, diverse songs. Vince Guaraldi, yes! (Sir Paul, no.) My list would have to include Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas,” and Tull’s “Christmas Song” and “Birthday Card for Christmas.”

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    1. A couple of Brits came bombing in last time, advising me that “Father Christmas” should be on the list. I confess I had not heard that song at all. And it turns out that while they play it relentlessly over there, it’s just about not at all heard over here. Because, I suppose, Father Christmas is their name for Santa Claus and is virtually unknown over here.

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      1. The song isn’t completely onboard with what most (most) people want a Xmas song to be. In other words, it has a touch of “candor” in the lyrics. Also, the ELP gang were never as pop-radio friendly as Macca and Bowie. I’ve known about it since 1978, but then again, I’m a longtime prog rock fan. I think the music has a gorgeous Xmas sheen to it, and the fact that the words aren’t totally Xmas PC makes it more appealing to me.

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        1. Lake said it was an anti-commercialization of XMAS song. I was actually a pretty big ELP fan once upon a time. I guess once this song came out I’d moved on. Never heard it till last year.

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        2. Yes, I did read Lake’s comment about the song’s intent. He wrote the music, but Pete Sinfield (King Crimson’s lyricist) did the words, and he said it was about “loss of innocence” and the last happy Christmas he spent, when he was a boy. The last line is “Hallelujah, Noel, be it Heaven or Hell / The Christmas we get we deserve.” Pretty dark stuff!

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        3. Yes, heh. It’s like Lennon’s very pacific “Imagine.” No heaven! No hell! No religion! no possessions! It’s practically Karl Marx. But everybody sings it. RS said, “Lennon calls for a unity and equality built upon the complete elimination of modern social order: geopolitical borders, organised religion, [and] economic class.” Lennon said, “But because it is sugarcoated it is accepted … Now I understand what you have to do. Put your political message across with a little honey.”

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        4. Yep. Lennon was an intuitive guy. Even when the song ISN’T sugarcoated, the masses are pretty stupid. When I did my piece on the Ken Burns Vietnam docu, I learned that one of Burns’s editors had no clue “Ohio” was about the Kent State killings. Did they think the “four dead” were soybean farmers?! A tractor accident?!

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        5. Generational thing I bet. But then again, some people are dense. I recall (not so) fondly how Jay Leno used to do a thing called “Jaywalking.” He’d wander the streets asking people fairly simple historical questions like “What country did we get our independence from?” and get answers like, “Spain?”

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  2. CB has been backing away from the Yuletide music (and turkey) the last few years. The Steeleye Span has my interest. Will bracket and give it a listen. Enjoyed the convo you and Pete had on the Lake/Sinfield tune. I usually breakdown and give Otis a spin with ‘Merry Xmas Baby’.

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    1. I try to avoid malls and other retail emporiums this time of year. (I feel bad for the people who work there and have to listen 8 hours/day. A form of torture forbidden by the Geneva Convention no doubt.) So when I fire up my favorite tunes a few days before XMAS, I’m in the mood. I’m not quite there yet.

      I love “Gaudete” and to Pete’s point, Steeleye Span had some real momentum there for a while. One of those medieval folk troupes that the Brits love and for which we Yanks have no history.

      Ditto on ‘Merry XMAS baby,” usually Elvis.

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        1. Hey, that’s pretty awesome. They used to play that on the FM stations all the time but it had never been released. So you either waited for it or taped it. I don’t think he ever put it on an official release but I notice it’s on one of unofficial archive releases from 1978. That’s about when I first started hearing it.

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        2. Yeah it was around 77/78 when i saw him there. The only props were a red Santa toque for Clarence as he sprinkled some fake snowflakes on Bruce’s head. They rocked like crazy.
          Back in the day i found the cut on a kids record called ‘In Harmony’ i think.

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  3. Boy, I can’t believe we’re already talking again Christmas and New Year. The Bowie-Crosby duo surely is an interesting combination.

    I’m also intrigued by the Clapton tune. Frankly, when I first heard he’s coming out with a Christmas album, I couldn’t escape the admittedly mean thought that maybe it’s time for him to finally retire – something it seems to me he has talked about forever. Based on this tune, I think I’m going to check out the record.

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    1. I’m assuming the Bowie thing is not new to you, yes? I was surprised because one commenter didn’t recognize it and I figured everybody knew it .

      Clapton was on one of the cable channels the other day doing the album. I didn’t watch it because I was busy but if it spins up again I may check it out.

      I peeked at your site and I’ll have some comments on some stuff, probably tomorrow.

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      1. The sound of Bowie singing Little Drummer Boy rang familiar, so I probably had heard it on the radio before.

        That was likely way back while growing up in Germany when I was listening to my then-favorite radio station all the time. These days I hardly listen to the radio any longer.

        What I don’t recall is the Bing Crosby connection. I cannot completely exclude the possibility of poor memory/lost brain cells from exposure to loud music over the decades!😆

        I certainly had not seen the clip you posted.

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