What’s Christmas without all those cheesy festive songs? To get you in the mood here are some of our favourites performed by a range of singers from Sinatra all the way to Obama. Ho ho ho.
It’s that time of year again, where we’re assailed by the best and the worst of Yuletide music from the sentimental to the sublime. Some of these Christmas songs have become standards, others are less well known. Some of the most famous songs have unexpected performers, something that can also be said of the less famous songs. Look, you’re just going to have to read on.
We’ll start with something ridiculously famous.
I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas is a song so closely associated with crooner Bing Crosby that anyone else who covers it is bound to come off second best. Still, I’m going out on a limb here and nominating the version by The Drifters as one of the superior renditions of this uber-schmaltzy song. Their harmonies are really quite beguiling…although it’s hard not to think of little Macauley Culkin fighting off Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern in that house with more Christmas lights than you can poke a stick at (hello global warming).
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas was made famous by the great Judy Garland, and for my money, no one can equal her beautiful, somewhat melancholy performance in the 1944 film Meet Me in St Louis. Judy looks and sounds gorgeous. She conveys the hope and promise of better times ahead. Unbeatable!
All I Want for Christmas is You was and remains a big hit for Mariah Carey, and she’s no doubt made a motza from it. It’s upbeat and sing-alongable. Even former US president Barack Obama has a version. Well sort of.
The 1960 song Please Come Home for Christmas is a particular festive favourite of The Big Smoke‘s Editor-in-Chief and it would be remiss of me not to include his preferred version. Please note that no correspondence will be entered into regarding the relative merits of Bon Jovi, Willy Nelson or any other versions; today it’s The Eagles’ turn.
Silver Bells is another popular if saccharine festive favourite. It too was written for a movie – The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) – and was originally recorded by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell. If you really must listen to it (and please don’t rush into doing so), I recommend Elvis with his distinctive inflections and soulful sound.
Written in 1941, The Little Drummer Boy is intended to tug at the heartstrings. Although there’s an engaging version from the Jackson Five (oh Michael, such a sweet boy) and it’s a staple of the Vienna Boys Choir, the performance we’re featuring is one by a cappella group, The King’s Singers. Only six men are singing, but the richness of their beautiful unaccompanied voices makes it sound as if there are many more.
I’ll Be Home for Christmas was written in 1943 as a tribute to the men serving in the United States armed forces far from home, so there’s a real wistfulness to it. And who better to convey that reflective mood but Frank Sinatra?
O Christmas Tree, how lovely are your branches. Based on an old German folk tune, this is a pretty annoying addition to the Christmas song list, so why not make it even more annoying? Here are the Chipmunks giving it their sappiest best.
Brolgas, bellbirds, currawongs and lorikeets – well, we had to include an Australian Christmas song. Carol of the Birds was written by WG James and John Wheeler in the mid-twentieth century. The Sydney Philharmonia Choirs sing “Orana for Christmas Day”:
If you’re a bit jaded by the sentimentality of the festive season, here’s a little injection of realism from Greg Lake, of Emerson, Lake and Palmer fame. He wrote his anti-commercialism song I Believe in Father Christmas in 1974. Strains of Prokofiev permeate the instrumental section, so it’s a winner for me. Interestingly and perhaps ironically, it’s been covered by numerous other artists and is often included in Christmas recordings. I wonder what Greg would have made of that.
We haven’t even mentioned Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree or Jingle Bell Rock or Happy Christmas (War is Over), but I’m sure they’ll pop up on that compilation album your nana gave you last year.
Also on The Big Smoke
To sign off, how about a little Merry Christmas Baby? My favourite version of this R&B classic is by jazzman Lionel Hampton, but I reckon we need to hear from another girl, so take it away Christina Aguilera and Dr John.
Happy listening and good wishes for the festive season!